Very early at the foodbank this morning the volunteer coordinator was thanking the clients for the cards they have been dropping off for the volunteers, staff and Minister at the church. It was cold in the Hall, there were not many there just yet and the room seemed very quiet. Just then, from the very back of the room, came a voice. The voice was steady and firm, “thank YOU for all that you do!” That prompted the coordinator to say, “We don’t do this because we have to, we do it in love, because we love you.” You don’t hear dialogues like that very often and certainly not first thing on a cold morning at a foodbank.
It seems to me that these kind of thank yous are the only that stick. Not the cards, the emails or even the calls. In passing conversation “thank you” has become background noise. We usually forget to say “you’re welcome” because we are sure it is a ritual, words we need to say. In a strange way our affirming culture, we give out trophies to all of our children now, we hear coordinators say “you are awesome” all the time, has made the words of praise less meaningful. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other, a time not long ago where we never said thank you or offered affirmation has transitioned into a constant patter of “you’re great” and “you are terrific”.
Those authentic moments are rare, when you can tell from the timber of the voice, the body language, the fact the compliment is coming from someone who does not just throw words around, that the other means it and the other will be remembering your effort. Those kind of affirmations stick with you, they are the words we remember long past the experience, often into our older age. As a Minister I can tell you that folks at the twilight of their lives, reflecting on what they lives have meant, will bring up these moments. They are a treasure.
Writing this there is a temptation to rush around and thank people for everything, which would water down the genuine words when they arrive. I say that it is best to wait for moments when someone has done something special and seize on it, make it count, and use the right medium for you to let the other know just how moved you are. Everyone has a special way of saying “thank you”. I am not an emotive person, I don’t hug or get “gushy”. But I do have a voice for thank you and can feel the sincerity pouring out when the moment is right.
People often wonder how George H.W. Bush got elected President, he was a terrible public speaker, hated to campaign, rarely won elected office before he won the 1988 election, and seemed an awkward public performer. One of the answers to that question was his disciplined and authentic cards and letters he sent to anyone whose kindness moved him. When his young daughter died of leukemia he wrote anyone and everyone who had cared for his child, his wife and himself. People remembered his letters. Most people still have them.
In a way the Apostle Paul write letters like that. He wrote to churches, groups of people, about their challenges and triumphs. But Paul also took time to praise the church for what they were doing right. And those letters lasted to this day. In fact they are the earliest recorded texts from the Newer Testament, what those churches read in their house worship on a weekly basis.
I bet all of us remember receiving such a note.