LEAven Blog


Thankful or Grateful or Both

Every November we start to see the signs. Not leaves in the yard or cooler nights, but those actual signs that hang from front doors or lean up against front porch posts. They usually have a message for the reader in a fancy script we’d love to be able to emulate… “Thankful,” “Give Thanks,” “Gather with Grateful Hearts,” “Grateful, Thankful and Blessed,” or my personal favorite, “Happy Fall Y’all.”

I don’t know why but I began to wonder if thankful and grateful are really synonyms. We seem to use them interchangeably but being a word sleuth, I wanted an answer. The Oxford dictionary says they are synonyms, but it gets interesting when you dig into their actual meanings. The dictionary definition of the word thankful is “pleased and relieved.” It immediately hit me that those are feelings. Really amazing feelings. Who doesn’t want to feel pleased and relieved?

What about grateful, then? The dictionary definition of the word grateful is “showing appreciation of kindness.” I found my difference. Grateful is a feeling. Thankful is an action.

Is it easy to look around and find things to be thankful for? I mean there is a lot to complain and worry about in our United States (said every generation), but when we really want to find those things to be thankful for, we usually can. Thankful my family is healthy, thankful for a roof over my head, thankful for my job, thankful for toilet paper. Around the Thanksgiving table surrounding by family or friends and mashed potatoes, we get that warm, fuzzy feeling; we’re thankful. However, thankful can come and go. Being thankful lasts as long as my family stays healthy, as long as I still have a job, or until there is another limit put on the number of toilet paper rolls I can buy at a time. Grateful is different…deeper…remember it’s an action.

Grateful is a state. A sense of being, living. I’ve met people who are grateful and have cancer, grateful and recently lost a spouse, grateful and ….. fill in the blank. It can almost be described as an appreciation that comes from deep within. An appreciation that only God can create and sustain in us….where you are at peace with the world, with yourself, and with God. We cannot always understand the circumstances we are in nor can we always be thankful for them, but we can still be grateful and live that out intrinsically.

I think being thankful is a start. Something to build on. Something to teach the younger generation. It reminds us of all that we have. But with experience and wisdom comes that deeper appreciation. Living out gratitude can be done through the simplest of ways: Expressions of love. A tight hug, a sweet kiss on the check, an “I love you.” Devotion and commitment to those who mean the world to you and reminding them that you will also have their back and you will fight alongside of them no matter what. Gratitude includes shared experiences, like Thanksgiving memories and the cranberry sauce that someone always insists be present or “it’s just not thanksgiving.” Those experiences connect us to others.

So my word sleuthing has led me to remember a journal I used to write in every night. It is a five-year journal called “some lines a day.” I haven’t written in it since August and I have so many moments of gratitude since then that I could have captured. I challenge you to write some lines a day too that allow you to be aware of how gratitude is living out in your life each day.

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Leslie Rudzinski holds a Master's degree in Family Life Ministry from Concordia Nebraska. Leslie's husband Kevin is the Science teacher at St. Paul's and together with their four children have served in ministry for 25 years in several congregations and schools in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Indiana.

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