104 Thank Yous…
A year ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to write two thank you cards a week for 2017. One card would go to someone at work and the other to someone in my personal life simply to thank him or her for being in my life and in our community. I decided to participate in this spiritual discipline because I realized that I needed to deepen and expand my own spiritual discipline of gratitude and because I have come to realize that none of us are getting any younger and I would hate for someone to die without knowing what he or she meant to me. At first, I felt a little silly writing these cards, but then I got to experience the reactions that people had to being thanked simply for being themselves, and that’s when I realized how important this work was each week. There were weeks when I didn’t want to do it, when on Friday afternoon I was tired and ready to shut my brain off, so I carried the two cards with me all weekend until I was ready to write. There were other times when I had so many people I wanted to thank that I wrote extra cards. I was a little sad as I wrote the last two cards today, but also a little relieved to have completed my resolution and excited to ponder what new thing I could try for 2018 to deepen my faith through gratitude.
Through this process of writing thank you cards the last year, I’ve learned a couple of things. The first is that science has shown that humans are communal creatures; we need community to support and love us, but as we’ve grown into a digital age, what appears to connect us can sometimes isolate us. Through social media, we think we know what is going on in the lives of our friends and family, but we forget that there’s usually more going on that never gets posted online. The responses to my thank you cards often highlighted for me how disconnected I’ve become but how easy it is to reconnect. I also learned that most people go about doing their work without anyone noticing how much work it really is. When we do notice that the person has quietly given extra or put his or her heart into something, we are actually getting to see and engage with God within him or her. This year has also highlighted for me that we live in a world that is hard and that thrives on scarcity and entitlement, and as we all go about trying to survive and perhaps even try to push back against scarcity and entitlement (which I think is a big part of our Christian mission), all of us have our hearts wounded and our feeling of personhood diminished, and we are just plain tired. But gratitude will push back against this, changing our situations and changing us. When we say thank you or write a thank you note, we are reminding ourselves and the person we are engaging with that we acknowledge the best of that person, doing and being his or her best in spite of the hardness of this world. Gratitude acknowledges the gift of being on the journey with others and the ways that our lives and souls have been buoyed by the other person.
In the end, I wrote 104 thank you cards plus a few extra, but what really changed was my heart. At times when I felt very small in the face of big problems in the world or in my own community, two cards in my notebook each week were a reminder that I am never alone, that I am held up by a community of care, surrounded by people doing their best and loved. Gratitude is a reminder that God is doing good things in our lives every day, if we would only notice. Equally so, gratitude is the important act of acknowledging that God is doing good things through others, and when we thank someone, we are also giving thanks for the gift that God has given us in the heart of that person. So as this discipline and year end and new ones begin, I just want to say thank you to all of you. Thank you for taking up the mantle of gratitude with me. Thank you for believing that God is at work in the world around us and for taking the time to acknowledge it. Thank you for believing that people are doing their best and loving them even if their best isn’t what you had hoped for. Thank you for giving thanks in the face of scarcity and entitlement and, through that thanksgiving, showing that we are enough and that we have enough for everyone. Thank you for believing that everything is a gift from God and that all of us are gifts from God who help heal a hurting and broken world. Thank you.