Updated: Oct 7
Are thank you notes still a thing? Don’t people just text each other now and say, “Hey thanks, I got the card/money/gift” and are done? Aren’t thank you notes a thing of the past, when digital communication was nowhere in sight and the only way to communicate?
If you have had a kid who just graduated from high school, you probably found that urging them to write thank you notes to all the nice people can be a little, well, exasperating. “Have you written them yet?” “Don’t you appreciate what they did for you?”
Maybe you yourself have the PTSD of having your mom nag you about writing thank you cards for Christmases and birthdays, etc.
After having major breast cancer surgery in August, I was blessed by all kinds of acts of kindness. Lots of notes, lots of prayers, lots of meals, people everywhere looking for a way to help. And in the moment that received these showers of love, I was gushing with gratitude. But when I looked around, I couldn’t find any thank you notes to send. The more time passed before I finally gave in and ordered some, and next thing you know, my thank you list had become long, and I felt a little like my high school students and old childhood self—full of gratitude but overwhelmed by the task of writing thank you notes.
But then God reminded me of a few things:
1) He tells us to have a heart of gratitude. Thanking God’s servants is another way to give thanks to the Lord, after all they were sent by Him.
I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. --Psalm 9:1
2) He tells us to edify one another in the gifts and talents they use to help the body of Christ. Technically those who blessed me were using their gifts to lavish God’s love on me and by thanking them, I was increasing their faith and use of those gifts.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. --Ephesians 11-13
3) There is lots of science to back up the Bible showing the positive effects of spending time in positive experiences and gratitude. The longer we spend thinking about positive things, the more our brains get trained to associate those good things, even to bad events. (See Dr. Rick Hanson at TEDxMarin 2013 for example.)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. --Philippians 4:8
Writing thank you notes are just as important for you as it is for the person you are thanking. But there is something magical in taking the time to handwrite notes. The more time you spend and the more of you is put into the note, the more the experience gets embedded in your mind as a positive experience. Additionally, handwritten notes are rare, so they actually mean a lot more to people to receive and read such notes. I, for one, keep a file with handwritten notes that were written with meaning and sincerity.
But what happens if you received something you did not like or want? How do you thank those people? Do you lie?
NO! Behind every action or gift is the intent. It is a sharing of what they think is the best for you or the best they have to give. The actual gift is not as important as the intent of the gift. They went out of their way to think of you, your needs, your situation. Sometimes you have to let go and let others bless you, their way.
For example, after surgery, two friends came over to visit and I asked them to help me with folding my laundry. I told them, “You can fold them any way you want. I promise not to micromanage. It is a blessing just to have your help!” That made the experience freeing for them and it made it freeing for me. If I kept telling them they were doing it wrong, they would have left feeling defeated and wondering if they blessed me at all. I took a picture of them folding my clothes, because it was a good memento of the body of Christ—each person had their own gift. Some are bakers, some are cooks, some are drivers, some are folders, some are cleaners, some are encouragers, some are prayer warriors. Everyone has their gift.
It reminded me of the verse in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Each one played a role I greatly needed and not one was superior to the other. Amazingly, there was very little overlap and each one came at the exact perfect time. That was because they were all listening to the Holy Spirit and did their job.
Overall, 1 Thessalonians 3:9 sums up exactly how I felt and, if you are short for words, you might consider starting your thank you notes with this verse:
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?