When I was little, and someone would do something nice for me or give me something, my mother would remind me, “don’t forget to say ‘thank you.’” Good moms always do. Even though my mom isn’t around to remind me as much these days, I find myself still needing the prompt.
It’s easy to live in a state of tepid discontent when we live in a culture where we can get so many things so quickly, where the marketing machine tells us all the time how much we deserve to have a better car, or a more svelte figure, or a fatter retirement account, or a more fascinating job. When someone asks you how something was– a party or dinner you attended, a class you took, a trip you made– how often do you respond, “it was fine, except….”, and then proceed to tell them about that one thing that was not fine, the thing that seemed to ruin the whole experience for you, rendering the 85 to 90 percent of the experience that was actually pretty good or even wonderful completely irrelevant in the wake of the part you didn’t like? As I said, tepid discontent. For the most part, we’re an ungrateful lot.
It’s not new. If you go back and read the Exodus or Numbers, you see that Israel was probably the most miserable group of people to lead in the history of people to lead. It’s actually amazing that Moses didn’t hurl himself off of one of those mountains he was constantly visiting in disgust over these people: grumbling about food, about water, about being lost, about each other; reminiscing about how awesome being cruelly enslaved to the Egyptians was compared to their current plight. Ungratefulness is as old as man.
So, at the end of a school year, may I encourage you to do things a little differently? To do something that would actually be a huge blessing, not only to those around you, but also to you? May I encourage you to rewire your brains for gratitude by not forgetting to say “thank you”?
This is often the time of the year for the traditional “airing of the grievances,” when we sit down and get all that stuff off our chests with each other that we haven’t bothered to say, when the offense actually happened earlier in the year. I don’t want to discourage that, because I think if we don’t resolve conflict, it is bad for community (although, if you haven’t said it before now, does it really need to be said? And, if it does, when something like it happens next year, please handle it in the moment, instead of weeks or months later, when it’s generally too late to do anything about it.) That said, I want to encourage you to couple any necessary conflict resolution with a good dose of reflecting on the things for which we’re grateful, and sharing those with the Lord, and with the people for whom we’re grateful.
First, being inclined towards gratefulness rewires our brains. I have said that I think gratefulness is the gateway to holiness. I think that’s true, because gratefulness inclines our hearts and minds towards the Giver of all good things, our God. When we express gratefulness for simple things, it opens our eyes to how many of those things there actually are. We realize that we serve a generous, giving God who loves to give. We, in turn, become more positive, generous, giving people. When we do that, we become a blessing to others. You’ve been around these people: they are salt and light; they breathe life into you. Unlike those you try to avoid or who are hard to love, these are the people that you actually try to get away from those others so you can go be around. They exude gratefulness, and you’re blessed by their gratefulness. Wouldn’t it be fun to be one of those guys, if you’re not already? Here’s the thing: we’re already called by God to be those guys. And, it all starts with gratefulness.
You’ve got a week left of school. Did someone teach your child something new this year? Did someone stay up late to grade a paper, giving your kid constructive feedback so they could improve their work? Did a teacher or coach speak life into your child this year, saying something that (from your own experience) he or she will never forget, and which could set their vocational or life course forever? Did a coach “teach Jesus” into the life of your kids, through passion for the game, words, or love? Did a teacher or administrator take your child through a difficult discipline situation (you may not know this, but teachers and administrators actually pray, agonize, and lose sleep over those things), making a decision that was hard in the moment, but that you know God will use to make your son or daughter the man or woman God is calling them to be? Did a pastor, friend, or other adult do any of these things?
Now, at the end of the school year, is a fantastic time to exercise gratefulness, and to thank them for their work. Be specific. Tell them the story: how your child’s life was impacted, what specific words or acts impacted them, and, how you appreciate it. Don’t just assume because you pay for that service, that’s appreciation enough. I pay; if your child’s teacher is or was a school parent, they pay; you’re paid for what you do, too. It’s still awesome to be grateful. And, like I said, it transforms and expands you and your capacity to love. It makes you a bigger, better human being. And, who doesn’t want to be a bigger, better human being?
While I’m at it, I want to thank you. Thank you for loving your kids and other people’s kids. Thank you for correcting them when they need correcting, praising them when they need that, too. Thank you for bringing your hard-earned dollars to help fund this mission- I know they are precious and probably not many, but that you are putting your treasure where your heart is. Thank you that your heart is here. Thank you that your children are here. Thank you for being my friends, and brothers and sisters, and for doing community with me. Thank you for letting me serve you, and for bugging the fire out of me at times to teach me how to better love, and for putting up with me when I bug the fire out of you. I love you, and I am grateful for you all. Thank you.