It’s Thanksgiving week and time to focus on what we are thankful for. The key word at my church the last month has been gratitude. Because I’m a ‘word nerd’, I got to thinking — what’s the difference between gratitude and thankfulness?
Weuse them interchangeably and the dictionary lists them as synonyms, but theymust have some subtle differences. After all, we thank people, but wedon’t gratitude them.
So,I did some research. I found out that gratitude goes back to the Latinword, gratia, meaning favor or free. It’s where we get the word gratis,meaning something is done for no payment, as in “The food was supplied gratis.”
Wealso get our word grace from this same root. The Greek word charisis translated as grace in the New Testament and has a connotation of a graciousfavor. In Paul’s writing it came to mean the undeserved mercy that God givesus. If you look up grace in a Biblical dictionary, you will find pageson its meaning.
Thanks,on the other hand, comes from the Latin word tongere, meaning to know orthink and has a connotation of something we do. In the Old Testament it isassociated with sacrifices and declaring appreciation to God publicly, as ingiving thank offerings. In the New Testament, it is translated from theGreek work eucharisteo. We are told multiple times to give thanks for Jesus’sacrifice of his body and blood (eucharist) and to thank God continually forall He has done for us (Phil. 4:6).
The nuance is slight, but it seems to me that to be grateful is to express a deeper emotion. It implies being thankful for something that is free, something we don’t deserve but receive just because we are loved. It is more difficult to pin down.
Wethrow around ‘thank you’ – thank you for ringing up my groceries, thank you fortaking my order, thank you for holding the door. But we are grateful forthose things that we know we don’t deserve – the friends who love us for who weare, the people in our lives who go above and beyond their jobs, our extendedfamilies who have known us all our lives.
Inherentin grace and gratitude is the unmerited gift we receive as believers in Christ.My Encyclopedia of Bible Words concludes its long entry on the meaning of gracewith these words:
ThisThanksgiving, I want to concentrate not just on those parts of my life that I’mthankful for, but those that I’m grateful for, knowing that I’m receiving them withno strings attached. They are the gifts that have the power to transform mylife.
“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” – Henri Frederic Amiel