I used to hate that “30 days of thankfulness” thing that crops up every November on social media sites. Sometimes, it felt too chipper and in-your-face. Sometimes it seemed fake. “She’s dying of cancer. How can she find anything to be thankful for?” A lot of the time, I just looked down my nose at it because I know that I can never keep anything up for 30 days in a row, and I’m a little jealous of people who can.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown to like it. I’m happy that my friends have so much to thank God for, and I need the reminder to say “Thank you” more often. This year, with all the election news, I hit November 14th without seeing a single thread of thankfulness in my newsfeed, and I realized that not only have I grown to like it, I’ve begun to look forward to it and to miss it when it’s not there. In fact, I actually need those November reminders to be thankful. When there’s no thanksgiving for blessings on my timeline, I find it much harder to remain in a state of grace and avoid sin. Other people giving thanks remind me to be grateful to God and to thank him for all of the blessings in my life.
Our language recognizes this. In Latin, ‘thanksgiving,’ gratiae, is simply the plural of grace, gratia. Someone who is overflowing with grace, then, should also be overflowing with thanksgiving. Mary, Full of Grace, is also full of thankfulness as she welcomes her son, marvels as he grows, and even as she cradles his broken body before laying it in his tomb.
In our own lives, we’re not as close to Jesus as Mary was, but at those moments when we’re most full of God’s life within us, we also proclaim our thanks. We end Mass, where we actually get to touch our Savior and take him into our own bodies, with a cry of “Thanks be to God.” There is grace, and we give thanks. In the confessional, after we receive absolution and are ready to walk out into the world, what’s the first thing we say? “Thank you, Father.” Grace and thankfulness are so intertwined, that when we have the first, we can’t help but proclaim the second.
In the aftermath of the difficult 2016 election, it seems like few on social media are feeling truly thankful for much of anything, and that has made for ugly behavior. For me, it’s become hard to see how social media can be compatible with a grace-filled life. It’s so easy to reduce people to checklists of traits or strange simulations of humanity when you only interact through a screen.
I think the answer might start with being thankful again. I need to be more thankful for the people God has put in my life and asked me to serve. I need to be more thankful for the opportunities for mercy and love that I’m prone to treat as interruptions. I need to stop ranting about all the things that I resent, that alienate me and that divide me from the people around me. Instead, I need to start proclaiming thankfulness. In fact, given my late, and frankly pathetic start, I should probably keep it up through Christmas, at least.
Will you help? I can’t promise I’ll keep it up for 30 days, because I’m eminently distract-able and somewhat cranky. But maybe if everyone chips in, just a little, we can start to break through the gloom and darkness of social media right now, and find something better on the other side.