February brings Valentine’s Day and thoughts of love and romance. Perhaps a candlelight dinner at a secluded table for two, soft music in the background, and a special meal of … roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie?
Wrong holiday? Not necessarily! While the turkey, stuffing, mashed potato, and pumpkin pie menu takes us back to Thanksgiving, there is an important link between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. If we want to love well—romantically and otherwise—cultivating a grateful heart is essential.
At Thanksgiving, we are reminded to count our blessings and offer praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for His goodness and gracious provision. That is a very good thing, especially since giving thanks does not always come naturally to us. Giving thanks requires us to turn from our all too common and self-focused grumbling and look with eyes of faith toward the Lord and others. And this looking outward, beyond ourselves, enables and empowers us to love more genuinely and deeply.
This brings us back to Valentine’s Day. While romantic dinners and kind gestures toward others can be appropriate expressions of love, I would like to suggest that applying the principles of thanksgiving to those we want to love can be more powerful and longer lasting. If we want to generate thankfulness in relationship, we need to look at others with that intent, to see beyond their annoying habits, idiosyncrasies, and faults to those qualities that remind us that they are image-bearers of their Creator. And as we come to appreciate them, we can love them more fully.
The essence of thanksgiving is the giving of thanks. So as we become thankful for someone, it is essential that in addition to thanking God, we thank the person, express appreciation. The Apostle Paul models this as he addresses the believers in the church at Thessalonika:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father….You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. I Thessalonians 1:2-3, 6-7.
Paul shepherds the congregations under his supervision with care and attention. He knows them, and what they are doing. He thanks God for them and then takes the time to share his appreciation of them in detail. What an encouragement that must have been for this early church, new in the faith living in a pagan world, and facing the ongoing threat of persecution. And so it all comes together: Paul has committed his heart and mind toward cultivating gratitude. He expresses that in the continual giving of thanks, encouraging and blessing others in love. His encouragement of them reinforces his attitude of gratitude, generating continual encouragement. It is a theme that runs through his epistles.
As we seek to love others in this “love month,” may we, like Paul, turn our hearts to the Lord in gratitude and thanksgiving so that we may love as He loves.