The Power of “Thank You”

It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Luke 17:11-19 (The Message)

Have you ever been thanked for doing your job? I don’t mean praised or tipped or even promoted…have you ever had someone look you in the eye and thank you for a job you did? Not because they had to, or because it was expected–not because they were trying to flatter you– but because they were genuinely grateful? It is a powerful, humbling, and even startling experience. I can count in the fingers of both hands the number of times I have been genuinely and personally thanked for things I did in the course of various jobs. Such expressions have come from unexpected sources, and have made lasting impressions.

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Our culture has been one of polite gratitude– I grew up being reminded to thank salespeople, waitresses, bellhops, bank tellers, gas pump attendants (yes, I’m THAT old!), ushers, and anyone who held a door, or provided a small service. We’ve lost a lot of that– we EXPECT good service (some of us expect even more than that, and are more prone to complain if we don’t get it. And, in the age of self-service and entitlement culture, we are less likely to receive the kind of good service I remember as a child. The end result is a lot of complaining and resentment. But even good manners is not the same as genuine, heart-felt gratitude. Someone can say all the right words and still leave you feeling drained and even hurt. Someone can leave a huge tip after being beastly–you still remember the abuse. And someone can be grateful, but leave you unsure if they even noticed your effort.

The Gospel of Luke tells a story that illustrates this well. Jesus, while traveling through the region between Galilee and Samaria, comes to a village with ten lepers. Keeping their distance, but wanting to catch Jesus’s attention, they shout out and ask for a miraculous and merciful healing. Jesus takes pity on them. He doesn’t shun them, but He doesn’t make a big fuss, either. He simply sends them on their way to show themselves to the local priest and be declared healed. It is after they leave that they realize they are indeed clean! Nine if the men continue on, grateful (we assume) and overjoyed. But one man makes the decision to turn around and thank Jesus face-to-face. He shouts and glorifies God and thanks Jesus repeatedly. And he was a Samaritan–an outsider; a rogue Jew–the type of person who wouldn’t be expected to show “good manners” to a Jewish teacher. Jesus points out to His disciples that there were ten men who were healed, and only one who came back to show his gratitude. He then speaks directly to the healed man, and assures him that his faith has both healed him and saved him.

This story does not go on to tell us whether or not the ten men offered the “appropriate” thank offerings that were set up in the Laws of Moses. It does not mention whether or not these men spoke of their healing or their gratitude among their friends and neighbors. We should not assume that the nine others were ungrateful in any way. Yet Jesus calls attention to the tenth man. Not because he was more important than the others, or felt more gratitude than the others, but because he took the effort to show it in person. It didn’t cost him any money or a lot of extra time, but it made an eternal impression that was recorded for us to learn from centuries later.

What a small thing, to say “thank you” for a helping hand, or friendly advice, or good service. It doesn’t require a costly demonstration, or empty flattery. Just a simple, direct, and heart-felt expression of gratitude. But what a powerful gesture. One so powerful, even Jesus was moved to stop and comment on it. Think how much good we could do if we took the extra moment to say, “thank you” to someone today? Think how much we have to be thankful for!

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Heavenly Father, THANK YOU for all that You do and have done; for all that You ARE! Thank you for those who do good, who show kindness, and who give their time and effort in service. May we be truly grateful, and quick to show our gratitude today. Amen.

Why Being “Nice” Matters

I spent the day with my granddaughter today.  We went to the bakery, the bank, the grocery, and the library.  Some days we visit the post office or a local cafe.  We live downtown, so we walk everywhere, and say hello to people we meet along the way.  At each stop, we thank the people behind the counter or desk.  My granddaughter is learning manners– how to be polite in public.  Her parents do a wonderful job of this, and it’s very easy for me to bask in the proud glow of people remarking on how cute and polite and engaging she is.  (I may be a little biased, but they DO say such things…)

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Years ago, when I worked at a library, there were always families who came in and practiced good manners– “Please” and “Thank You,” “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” and “May I?”  Often, the children were prompted, especially when they were young.  Sometimes, they didn’t understand why they were being told to say such things.  A couple of times, I had other parents roll their eyes and comment negatively on such practices.  “They don’t even understand what they’re saying.”  “I’ll bet they don’t say any of those things at home– what hypocrites.  They’re just trying to make people think they’re better than everybody else.”  “You shouldn’t force kids to say such things.  They’ll just resent you for it later.”

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There are actually parenting articles about forcing children to say “I’m sorry.”  They are well-intentioned, and some are helpful about explaining what the issues are (here’s a link to one of the articles) .  Other articles advise parents not to prompt children to say, “Thank You.” (Here’s another link.)  I don’t disagree with these authors.  In fact, I think they make a valid point about teaching our kids “shallow” manners and neglecting the deeper values of gratitude and empathy.  But I think children need both.

Manners (especially as they reflect deeper values) are important.  We live in a society where manners are becoming relics–laughable reminders of a quaint culture we have long outgrown.  There are pockets of the country (and the larger world) where politeness is almost an obsession.  It is not polite or helpful to be facetiously “nice” or sarcastically “nice”.  But what happens when we no longer dare to show gratitude or empathy without inviting ridicule and contempt?  What happens when saying “Please” and “Thank you” make you a target for mockery? When and how did this happen to our culture?

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With all due respect to the recent spate of articles, I think something gets lost in the hyperbolic headlines and fascination with “feelings”–manners should originate, not with feelings, but with the acknowledgement of some basic truths:

  • I am not the center of the universe!
  • Other people– all other people–have value, worth, and dignity.
  • I need other people, and they need me–I am not an island.
  • There is a God who is kind, forgiving, loving, and wise.

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I am polite to others, not because I feel “nice”, but because I recognize that God created all people; He loves us all equally, and I have a duty to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness– even if I don’t “feel” it; even if they don’t respond in kind.  Do I always remember and acknowledge this, even as an adult?  Sadly, no.  But I practice politeness as a discipline and a reminder that this should be so.  I teach it for the same reason.  And the amazing thing is that it makes a huge difference.  Maybe not in the moment, with all my emotions running wild…but in the quiet aftermath of knowing that I said “Thank you” instead of the hurtful and sarcastic comment.  I said “I’m sorry” instead of holding on to my pride and bitterness.  And I may never know the difference it made to the harried waitress, or lonely shopper, or tired mechanic to hear two or three kind words– “Thank You” (You are noticed– you matter).  “I’m so sorry” (you have dignity–you are worthy of kindness) “Please” (you have value–your time, skill, or service is special)

I’m not a “nice” person– I am often hateful and stubborn and impatient.  But God has been abundantly gracious and merciful to me when I don’t deserve it.  Being polite is such a small thing in light of God’s eternal and boundless love toward us.

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