My mom always taught me to write thank you notes. Birthday parties, Christmas gift exchanges, and graduations were always followed by the [semi-unappealing] task of pulling out notecards and writing to each person who brought me a present – no matter how big, no matter how much I liked it. It stayed on my to-do list until completed.
As I moved into the grown up world I was able to choose what practices taught by mom I wanted to maintain. Some habits and rules I was asked to abide by have become a staple part of my life, and others have faded away. For a while it looked like the practice of thank you notes would be one that I left behind. This was mostly indicated by the stack of thank you’s I dutifully wrote for my college graduation and then left unaddressed and unstamped for the following year. (What do you do in a situation like this? Send them out with an apology note? Pretend like a year is an acceptable amount of time to wait before saying thank you? Re-write them all? As it turned out it was about time to write wedding thank-you’s so I just threw them into the trash and hoped I didn’t lose any friends over it.) (Also, If you never received a thank you for the present you graced me with four years ago, consider this your formal thank you note.)
But sometimes it takes a hiatus from habits – regardless of the good they may hold – to decide what is actually important.
As it would turn out, writing thank you notes is one of those actually important things.
This year, after the Christmas giving was over, I decided to pull out a stack of note cards and began the process of thanking. With each family member and friend that I expressed gratitude to – regardless of the gift they gave – I found myself increasingly grateful. And not just for the present but for their place in my life. I began to beyond what they gave to who they were and the love they were offering, each in their own way. And I remembered the moments that I blew them off, snapped at them, or neglected to cherish the time with them. Expressing my thanks, and not just a quick ‘thank you’ before unwrapping another present, made me more thankful. I wrote these thank you notes tears began to well up out of a heart overwhelmed with gratitude.
The holiday season is over, and the next Thanksgiving is months away. We are in the middle of ordinary time, settling into our normal workaday worlds. It is easy, incredibly easy, to slip into a state of unnoticing. To forget that the people who opened their wallets and home to us at Christmas still have open hearts for us today. It is easy to save the gratitude for the few days out of the year set aside for such sentiments. But it is now – in the normalcy of every day life – that we need thankful hearts the most. It is now – when the big presents and extravagant gifts are put away – that we are most apt to take the daily gifts for granted. To look past the small favors, the loving words, the regular provision, the daily faithfulness. To a blind eye, a self-focused attitude, these little things are overlooked. But to the one intentionally choosing gratitude, they are reminders of the lavish grace and outrageous love we’ve been given. Saying thank you becomes not just a chore to check off our to-do list but a way to change our hearts.