The power of “thank you”

Giving thanks in the real world

by Lisa Bingham –

When our son was in middle school, he would often entertain us at the dinner table with funny stories about his fellow students. He would imitate their gestures and do the voices, thoroughly enjoying his own performances. One evening, however, he told a tale without flourish or fanfare. He explained that the cafeteria lady frequently gave him a bigger piece of pizza than she gave his friends. “Why would she do that?” we asked. His explanation was simple: “I think it’s because I say ‘thank you.’”

Our son was probably right. Saying “thank you is good for everyone. It’s good for those who say it and good for those who hear it.

Although I often count my blessings (I once kept a gratitude journal and listed five things I was grateful for on a daily basis), I am sometimes guilty of feeling disgruntled and acting ungraciously. Like many others, my life is that of the “sandwich generation.” While I want to express my gratitude to God and those I love, I sometimes fail to do so. I feel disingenuous and even a bit sorry for myself. Visiting us regularly is our 2-year old grandson (clearly a joy) and living with us every day is my 93-year old mother (a joy, but a challenge). When it comes to care giving day in and day out—admittedly there are times when I just don’t feel the love!

Welcome to the real world. “So what?” I chide myself. “So you don’t feel the love? So keep on keeping on. And by the way girlie, it’s not even about you! God is God, and what else do you really need to know? Try reading about Job and then see if you have something to complain about!”

I have a point there. It isn’t actually about me. Of course, I’d like to think it is—at least some of the time. I believe that God has the universe well in hand, but I also believe he cares about me and my small troubles. It’s quite a balancing act that God performs.

Maybe giving thanks involves not only the emotions from the well-spring of the heart—that feel-good, spontaneous overflow of goodwill and appreciation for God’s gracious gifts—but also the simple decision to acknowledge blessings and their source even when the warm fuzzy feelings are not there. When I get stuck on verse 1 of Psalm 111—“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart…” maybe I need to do just the “give thanks” part. Make a list, shout to the Lord if necessary, but give thanks—and let God continue his work including the mending of my whole heart.

The truth is that once I start naming my blessings, good things start to happen. One good thought really does lead to another. I realize again how truly thankful to God I am, thankful to love and be loved, no matter what chapter of life I’m in at the moment. Inspirational writer Melody Beattie puts it this way: “Gratitude…turns what we have into enough, and more….It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” The apostle Paul identifies giving thanks as God’s will for us, essential to our well being, when he says, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Modern science concurs that being thankful does us good. Jeffrey Froh of Hofstra University reports that “…consistently being grateful can produce some real health benefits…It’s beyond feeling good, and beyond happiness…we found that grateful kids tend to report less physical complaints…that grateful people who counted blessings were more likely to exercise, more likely to report better sleep; less likely to report these physical complaints. There’s even some research…[that indicates] when you have a sense of appreciation your heart rhythms are more coherent and smooth, which of course is healthy” ( Being grateful may not only be the secret to a happier life, but to a healthier one too. It’s hard to be angry, rude, jealous or even despondent when you are feeling grateful.

Blessings come in all shapes and sizes. One of my current favorites is about two feet tall—our blonde, gray-blue eyed 2-year old grandson, Miles. He’s learning to be polite. But when without any prompting he says, “Thank you, Grandma,” in his clear sweet voice, it’s a beautiful gift that melts the heart. On the other end of life’s continuum is my 93-year old mother. As she moves in and out of touch with reality, driving me a little crazy at times, she will sometimes say at the end of a day, “I’m a lucky lady. I have a lot to be thankful for.” Clearly Mom still has things to teach me. She knows somewhere in her soul that giving thanks helps put our joys and troubles in perspective. A thankful heart connects us to the Giver of all good gifts and connects us to each other, as well.

Thirteenth century German theologian Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you it will be enough.” I’m not sure about that theologically, but it’s certainly a very good start. It’s time to get out that gratitude journal again. Giving thanks—it’s good for all of us!

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