Thank Someone for Their Impact on Your Life--It Matters
My wife Nancy is cleaning out a closet that contains all sorts of artifacts from our 38 years of marriage. She asked me to go through a box of letters and thank you notes I received when I left Trinity Church in Boston 25 years ago to see whether I wanted to keep any of them. As I read them, I was struck by how meaningful it is when someone takes the time to be specific. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the generic “thank you for all you have done for me” and “best wishes in the future.” But as I read these notes, what really hit home was someone identifying the source of their gratitude. I think of one woman, probably in her late twenties at the time, who said she will be forever grateful for the contemplative prayer group that deepened her relationship with God: “The evenings our group spent sitting in the silence of a dark church changed my relationship with God.”
With twitter, text messages, Instagram and other digital media dominating the way we communicate, I fear we have traded quality for volume. Writing a letter or a meaningful email requires reflection, which requires time. It requires patiently pondering why this person had such an impact on us and then finding the right words to communicate that.
Last week I reflected on the upcoming Advent season as a time to explore meaningful ways to bring some light into the world. Here’s another option: What about thanking someone for their impact on your life in a Christmas card, and not in general terms, but with specifics? I think a lot about teachers in this regard. Most teachers have taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students over the years. My guess is that most students and their parents—I am no exception—often take these servants for granted. And yet I frequently talk with people who speak of the impact a teacher had on the course of their life. Imagine what a difference it would make to share your gratitude with that teacher now. Imagine what a difference it would make for a teacher who is currently wondering whether their life’s work has mattered. Such gratitude is what keeps people going.
And here is the thing: We spend a lot of time thanking God for blessings received, and rightly so. But I have a hunch that God is just as interested in thanking us for blessing we have been to others. When we thank others for what a blessing they have been to us, I believe we are telling them how grateful God is for their lives. When we thank someone else, we are the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “You are my son/my daughter, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3.17).