She would tell me to pray about something– like that I would suddenly be given a raise- and I would try to explain that that wasn’t how raises were given where I worked and when that didn’t work, I would just tell her my truth: that I didn’t think it was appropriate to personally pray for favors from God. Because I am fully incapable of lying (this is far less of a gift than you think. Especially back then, it was absolutely impossible for me to just nod politely and move on if I had a different viewpoint. I had to explain myself. The good news is that I am not so stringent about all my truth telling now because I’ve realized a multitude of things and so now I can just say ‘Yes, ma’am’ and not feel wracked with guilt that I am a liar. I would tell you all these details but this post isn’t about the nuances of truth telling so I’ll save that for another day), I would explain to my mom that there were just two types of personal prayers I was comfortable offering up to the heavens, to the universe, to the God of my understanding: prayers for strength (or as I later learned, what Anne Lamott described as Help Me, Help Help Me) and prayers of thanks (in Anne Lamott speak: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. As an additional aside, Lamott- whose nonfiction I adore-just released a new book called Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers). Needless to say, my personal prayer philosophy didn’t go over all that well with my mom. She wanted me to ask for specific stuff. As a person who had very thoughtfully etched out her faith, I wanted to know that I was given what I was given for a reason and it was my job in life to navigate it thoughtfully. Sometimes, I needed help and when I did, I would pray for guidance and grace but never for God to give me, let’s say, a C in Calculus instead of the F I was currently earning. Sometimes, I was just bowled over with amazement at what I had been given and, in those instances, I didn’t want to be accused of not noticing. Sometimes, I just said Thanks out loud as I wandered through life.
And today’s spark is about the importance of saying that thanks.
There is something about gratitude that just makes our hearts happy, don’t you think? Gratitude fill us up, shifts our perspective, makes us shine brighter. Gratitude is good stuff.
Years ago, I received a random, unsigned thank you note in the mail- not for something I specifically did but for how I moved through the world. That thank you note, as you might imagine because this is how these things work, came at the end of one of the crappiest weeks I had had as a teacher. Exhausted and defeated, I read that note and felt something in me shift. Maybe I am not so bad, I thought. Maybe I do have plenty to offer, despite the evidence I had been trying to mount against myself from that week. That thank you note? It saved me from myself at a moment when I felt like throwing it all in. That’s powerful.
This year, one of my goals for my birthday list is to write 39 thank you notes. Now, in general, I LOVE writing thank you notes. I get a gift and even if the gifter says, “Now, no thank you notes!”, I still write one. So thank you notes are kinda my thing. But my 39 thank you notes are going to be different. I am not going to thank people for things they have given me or done for me. I am going to thank them for how they are in the world and how that affected me.
I don’t expect you to write 39 notes, but, this week, I do want you to write one note. A handwritten note on actual paper and then I want you to mail it. Send a little gratitude out there because, at the very least, it will make you feel better. But the fact is that it will likely do much more.