January 14, 2008
The Words We Use: New Words for a New Year
I'm feeling foursquare about using new words this year. Actually, not so much new words as two very old words in a new way: thank you.
Now, if you know me, you've heard me use those words often. I am unfailingly polite. I always say my pleases and thank-yous, and write thank-you notes after Christmas and birthdays. (I am not, however, unfailingly punctual, so the note may unfortunately arrive a few months late. My apologies if you haven't received a thank-you note yet for the birthday gift you sent me in July.) In high school I think I may, on occasion, have driven a few opponents crazy during tennis matches by my thank-yous when they returned balls to me. I sign my e-mails and end the messages I leave in voicemail with "thanks," even when I haven't asked the other person to do anything and am, in fact, getting back to them about something they need me to do. Thank you, in other words, rolls off my tongue easily.
And I mean it, of course, when I say it. But sometimes I think it comes out a little too easily. Without enough thought. Without me lingering in the gratitude, or really pondering what another person did or said, what they may have sacrificed on my behalf.
Now, I realize that if a word is going to slip out without you noticing, "thank you" is a pretty good choice. No need to cover the kids' ears. But the words are too important to say thoughtlessly. Gratitude is too important a gift to slide over or miss.
Even more, I'm noticing all the times I have opportunity to say thank you (followed by specific words of affirmation) and don't: to coworkers who are excellent at their jobs and who make mine easier, to my landlord who takes such good care of our building, to the pastors at my church who give so much, to family and friends who overwhelm me with their generosity. Every day I miss many opportunities to say thank you.
My goal is not, of course, to simply increase the number of times I say thank you in a day, as if reaching a certain quota will land me a spot on Oprah. Too many thank-yous will most likely drive those around me crazy. And repetition, after all, can cheapen a word, to the point where no one believes you're sincere when you say it. But saying thank you more intentionally, with specifics after it, will, I believe, cultivate a deeper attitude of genuine gratitude in me.
Our consumer culture, obviously, tries to make us discontent and nurses a baleful spirit of jealousy, bitterness, anger. Personal struggles have also added a deeper bitterness in my heart that comes out more times than I 'm willing to admit, along with an impatient longing to move out of the stuck places I find myself in. But intentional thank-yous to God and others force me to see what's good, what's true, and help me recognize the gifts around me in people and circumstances.
So I've determined to start and end each day with thanksgiving. Some days, I suspect, I will say my thank-yous to God with gritted teeth, and there will be long pauses between the first and second item while I rack my brain for something to thank him for; my vision, unfortunately, can be extremely dim and extraordinarily unimaginative. But the intentional stopping and thinking of what I'm truly grateful for, and the act of actually saying thank you to God in recognition that he is good, and he gives good gifts, seem like hopeful steps toward becoming a truly grateful person, whose heart and mouth overflow with thanks in genuine gratitude for what others and God give.
So let me say to you: thank you for reading, for commenting, for being willing to let me process and share the ugly and beautiful with you. I'm truly grateful.