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March 6, 2013

‘Thank You,’ Gift Giving, and Gratitude

Breaking down walls of independence, self-sufficiency, and pride isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it.

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I’m quite certain that the two words contained in the phrase thank you are two of the most vulnerable words one can say. Their mere presence denotes dependence on something or someone outside of one’s self. They are words that recognize the fact that, without another, a particular outcome would not have been reached. Thank you is a phrase that speaks to relationship, connectedness, and interdependence.

I am drawn to the picture of the body of Christ painted in Romans 12. Paul invites his readers to look at themselves with sober judgment, not thinking of themselves more highly than they ought, followed by a metaphor of the body. The metaphor is a powerful picture of interdependence. Each person has her own gift set. She brings something unique to the world, and when she uses her gifts, she paints a brush stroke of brilliance on the canvas of the body.

We were created to be dependent. We were created with purpose to keep us from independence, self-sufficiency, and pride. Unfortunately, many of us live in a culture where these three things are celebrated, and have been adopted as signs of responsible living. As a result, the phrase thank you has lost its meaning.

A few years back I was hosting a bridal brunch for a friend. I worked diligently to create the right atmosphere, and perfectly planned the meal to fit the occasion and mood. I love hosting. I delight in creating environments that speak to the value of others. I crave giving to others in this way. As I was describing what I wanted to accomplish with my mentor, she invited herself to the brunch.

“Cari, I’m going to come over and serve you so you can participate in the day. I will do the dishes, clear the table, and make sure everyone is taken care of.”

This did not go over well with me. I was supposed to do it all! Okay, that may not be what looking at myself with sober judgment looks like, but it was my gift to give. I was in charge, and I was capable of doing it all. Plus, I hate doing dishes. I couldn’t accept someone else’s offer to do what I hate—that would be ludicrous!

Thankfully, my mentor wouldn’t take no for an answer. The brunch went off without a hitch, and I actually got to sit down, enjoy conversation, and be present for my friend. Because my mentor used her gift and I used mine, it was seamless.

When it was all said and done, I didn’t know how to communicate my gratitude. Her gift was so meaningful that words could not adequately express my heart. It was also difficult to say thank you because I had received an unmerited gift, and my intense drive to do everything on my own was quite profound at this point in my life.

I muttered the words, “thank you,” hugged her, and immediately made plans for how I was going to repay her for her kindness (as though she was keeping a record of her hours of service compared to mine).

Through this series of events, I learned how hard it is to say “thank you.” I loved the gift, but felt guilty receiving it. In my life, I was supposed to do it all. I could thank God and others for their work only when there was no possible way for me to do it on my own, and this was a rarity.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my resistance to receiving help was selfish.

My mixed up understanding of independence and self-sufficiency affected my ability to receive, which ultimately affected my ability to thank others.

Thank you has since become an indicator of trust, relationship, and interdependence. As a result of this understanding, I have changed my attitude toward gratitude. I now enjoy seeing brush strokes added to the canvas of the body as I serve with others, and I love to surround myself with those who give in ways I can’t.

I’m also continually reminded of the truth James teaches in his letter, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens” (James 1:17). I find myself spontaneously thanking God for his work in my life as he brings me the good I experience daily.

We were made for connection. We were made for relationship. We were made to be interdependent. Our gratitude is evidence of our dependence on God, and on others. Every time we say thank you, we admit we are not the god of our own lives. By giving thanks we freely admit we are a part of a body, and are graciously given all good things by a loving God.

The gift of gratitude awaits you today—walk in it!

Cari Jenkins blogs at http://carijenkins.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @carijenkins.

Related Tags: burnout, gratitude, service, thankfulness

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