A man lay in a hospital bed worried about whether he would live or die. He called his pastor to come pray for him. He told her that if he got well, he’d donate $20,000 to the church.
The pastor prayed and the man eventually DID get well and returned home. But no check came to the church. The pastor paid him a visit.
“I see you’re doing quite well now,” she observed. “I was just wondering about the promise you made.”
“What promise?” he asked.
“You said you’d give $20,000 to the church if you recovered.”
“I did?” he exclaimed. “That goes to show you just how sick I really was!”
It is easy to give thanks — or to show it — when we feel grateful. But gratitude is not a feeling we can manufacture. Nor are we born feeling especially grateful.
Children don’t express much thanks by nature. Conveying appreciation is something we learn. And, here’s the good news, we have a lifetime to get better at it.
We teach our children to say thanks and, in time, they develop stronger feelings of gratitude. My son could talk before he was weaned from diapers, but one thing he never said was, “Thank you for changing my dirty diapers, Mom/Dad. I know that is a messy job. I appreciate all you and Mom are doing for me.” Too bad. Sometimes we deserved a BIG thank you.
Once he became car sick during a road trip, and I think he should have written a long thank-you letter to us for cleaning it up. Even though his mother and I spent almost a half hour scrubbing the carpet in a convenience store parking lot at seven degrees below hell… he never did said, “Gosh, guys, you’re the greatest parents ever! I am SO lucky to be part of this family.”
But that’s all right. Naturally, we wouldn’t expect small children to thank their parents for being parents. And for most people, feelings of gratitude come with empathy as we mature. The more we express thanks, the more gratitude we feel. The more gratitude we feel, the more we express thanks. It’s circular, and it leads to a happier life. But, I must add, my son is a very happy – thankful person – seen by the way he lives his life everyday. And that is a beautiful way to say thank you to everyone who has touched his life.
And that’s the point. People who are generally happier got that way, at least in part, through gratitude.
Here are three simple steps to help anybody live more thankfully and to respond more authentically.
First, recognize WHEN a thankful response is appropriate. We take for granted too many of the things that we should be giving thanks for.
Second, spend a moment reflecting on how another’s thoughtfulness makes you feel. Be intentional about this.
Then third, from a sincere feeling of gratitude, give thanks. Say it. Write it. It doesn’t matter. But when you do, you will discover a side benefit – you are becoming a happier person.
And so, we pray: Lord, I always need to be a happier person… most every day. Help me to be grateful for all of my life. Amen.
Grace and Peace