Years ago, when I was a selfish teenager that knew everything, I was called out by someone I love a ton. It hurt, but it made a huge impact on me.
I didn’t send out thank you cards for gifts I had received.
I got a letter in the mail that explained in no uncertain terms how people chose to make sacrifices on my behalf in order to do small things to improve my life. It was heartfelt and direct. I’m pretty sure I still have the letter somewhere.
I say “Thank you” all the time now. I say “Thank you” to just about everyone who does anything for me. I’ll thank a waiter a dozen times throughout a meal. I’ll thank my wife for putting the dishes away. I said “Thank you” to a uniformed soldier at the store the other day. I’m pretty sure I’ve thanked people simply for conversations.
(I’m still not very good at thank you cards, but I tend to go a little nuts through email or Facebook instead. Judge freely.)
A few years ago I was at a camp for the summer. I was the last one in the dining room at lunch one day. A staff member was moving tables and sweeping the floor as I was packing up to leave.
“You don’t have to thank me for doing my job.”
“Sure, I do. Thanks.”
I walked out and that conversation has been with me ever since. I think about it all the time. It hit me the same way that the letter I got when I was younger did. It didn’t convict me to change my ways of gratuitous gratitude, however. It reinforced them.
I think what this staff member meant to say was that gratitude wasn’t necessary since sweeping was written on her job description. This was the expectation for the position and could therefore be assumed without any acknowledgment. I need to say that this wasn’t the first time I’ve had this sort of conversation. I’ve had a boss tell me matter-of-factly “I’m probably not going to thank you as much as you want to be thanked… I’m not here to stroke your ego.” This “Don’t thank me for doing my job” thing is fairly prevalent, I think.
Doesn’t the person get lost in that perspective? The position and the expectations rise to the top and the relationship gets lost somewhere.
Going back to that dining room, I wasn’t thanking her for her function. I was thanking her because her actions were a service to each of us that ate in that room three times each day. She cleaned up our messes. She threw away our trash. She swept up our crumbs and wiped up our spills. Nearly invisibly, she selflessly served 80+ people not with a broom and a mop, but with her heart and her hands.
Every interaction we have with each other is in community. Every action and reaction has echoes within the community. Even things we do by ourselves, on our own, when nobody else is looking can have community effects.
The letter I received was a reminder of this. It wasn’t because the author wanted to be thanked. It was because I had lost sight of how I fit into the community of family. I had lost sight of how inter-connected I was with the generosity of others. Generosity is essential to community, as is gratitude.
I think, to some extent, perhaps we’ve lost track of both. We’re not thanked enough for what we do on a daily basis and we’re not used to the kind of sacrifice on each other’s behalf that makes a community stronger. Instead, we do our thing on our lily pad to the best of our ability and then we wonder why we’re all alone.
Say thank you to those who serve you, even if they’re supposed to. Be generous in your own service, even when it seems to be invisible. These are acts of the heart.