November 2014

Power of Two Little Words

My wife is an obsessive compulsive person when it comes to writing “thank you” notes. I on the other hand try, but am not as faithful. Every week Kim writes dozen of cards to share her love (Hallmark loves her) or to thank someone for what they did. She has taught, and reminds me, to write “thank you” notes. 

Why is it important to give out a “thank you” when someone does something thoughtful, kind, or good? Gordon MacDonald tells the story of a husband and wife team, who spend three days a week as volunteers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The wife works at the information desk at the main entrance. Her mission? To welcome and provide information for people entering the hospital for the first time. The husband oversees a reception area for families and friends of cancer patients who are in surgery. His mission? To ensure the families are comfortable and cared for until the surgeon comes to tell them what has happened in the OR. The couple is retired, so why would they do this three days a week? Their answer was pointed, "Because we are aggressively appreciated! Mass General practices a culture of appreciation. You can hardly go 15 minutes during the day without someone on the MGH staff stopping you (from hospital president to the cleaning staff) and saying thanks and some¬thing like 'We couldn't do what we do without you.'” 

Do we really understand the dynamics of those two little words- “thank you?” Some of us, when we were children, were taught to say “please” and “thank you.” We weren't entirely sure why the words were so important, but it didn’t take long to figure out that in most cases good things happened when these words were used. We came to understand that “please” opened doors of generosity. And “thank you” usually led to further door-openings down the line. But those words had to be taught, and apparently it is a hard habit to acquire and maintain.
Why are those two simple words, “thank you,” so important and powerful? First, when we say “thank you” we are acknowledging someone else for a gift, a word, an action that they of¬fered to us- we are placing a value on their effort, thing, or words. Second, a “thank you” tells the other person that we are aware of their thoughtful¬ness and generosity. It acknowledges that the giver acted generously, sacrificially, nobly; and that we have observed it. Third, “thank you” is a kind of humility. In a sense we are saying that we need others in our life, and the expression of “thank you” is the affirmation of that need. Thus, saying or writing those two little words is an important element to all healthy human relationships: friendships, mar¬riage, family, and organizations of all sizes and shapes. Neglect it, and over a period of time, the quality of any of those relation¬ships deteriorates.

Is saying or writing “thank you” becoming an endangered species? With all the modern technology (text, email, voice mail, notes, or simply speaking), we still find it difficult to say “thank you!” We have all kinds of excuses; “I forgot,” “I don’t have time,” or “that’s not something I do.” But just maybe, the problem is our false sense of entitlement- where we feel people owe us good things and generosity? Forgetfulness, laziness, and selfishness breeds ingratitude. And yes, like anything else important in life, saying or writing “thank you” takes time, effort, and work.

Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Ro 1:20-21). Paul notes that people who do not honor or thank God fall into spiritual catastrophe. Maybe Paul is saying that honoring and thanking are at the core of all relationships: beginning with one's connection with God and moving on to family, friends, and community.     
                                                                                                                            -Pastor Mike Kotrla