The Lost Art of ‘Thank You’

At this time of year especially, let's remember to be grateful for all that God has given us and our loved ones

Whatever happened to handwritten thank you notes? A few weeks ago I went on the hunt for some notes to use both at home and in my pastoral ministry, but after walking through three different department stores I began to wonder if my search was in vain. Since when did locating some simple greeting cards become as difficult as hunting a white-tailed deer or a wild turkey?

Finally, on my fourth store, I spotted the elusive cards. I seized two handfuls with a manly sense of satisfaction. Is this what all those Pennsylvania deer hunters feel like after a successful stint in the woods?

As I stood in line to pay at the register, I looked down at my collection of cards. I smiled. My mom would be proud. My mom often hounded me when I was growing up to write out thank you cards to friends and family members who had given me a special gift.

I used to hate writing those blasted cards. After just two or three, my right hand would start to resemble an eagle’s claw. But now I realize how important a heartfelt thank you card can be, especially the ones written in longhand. In a digital world of emails, texts, and Facebook messages, keystrokes don’t carry the same emotional weight as words penned in ink.

When it was finally my turn to pay, the female cashier smiled when she saw my purchases. It’s likely there aren’t too many people buying thank you cards these days.

Sadly, it seems like gratitude is going extinct. Yet the truth is that our struggle to give appropriate thanks has been happening since Bible times. In Luke 17, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem when a group of 10 men began shouting at Him. Loudly.

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Related: Giving Back at Thanksgiving

They weren’t protesters — they were lepers. These poor men had been driven from their homes and kept in quarantine because they suffered from a contagious and debilitating skin disease. We can cure leprosy today with powerful drug therapies, but in ancient times there was no medical cure. The only answer was to separate the sick from the healthy — sometimes permanently. Who knows how long these men had been separated from their wives and families? Bodily pain was hard enough to deal with, but being completely cut off from society and family must have been soul-crushing.

When Jesus walked by, these men spotted an opportunity. They heard rumors that Jesus was a mighty man — a healer. They had but one chance, so they united their voices and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:13)

How often do people shout at celebrities today, hoping for an autograph or picture? How often are they turned away with a cold shoulder? But Jesus is no celebrity — He is the gracious Son of God. Jesus healed the men instantly and advised them to visit the priest, who would confirm their cleansing.

But that is when something remarkable happened. Although 10 men were healed — 10 men restored and reunited with their families — the Bible says only one man came back to return thanks.

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?”

This lack of gratitude was so shocking that even Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:17)

Make no mistake, all the men felt thankful for the healing they received from Jesus. It was the healing that allowed them to leave that awful quarantine and return home to their loved ones. But the one man who expressed his gratitude to God (Luke 17:15) was the man Jesus praised. He got Thanksgiving right.

On Thursday, millions of Americans will gather with loved ones around a Thanksgiving feast. For many households, this gathering typically includes an opportunity for each person to share something they feel thankful for. But this is a mistake.

The Bible teaches us that true thanksgiving is not an inward feeling about the blessings we enjoy, but an outward gratitude expressed to God who gave the blessings. In other words, genuine thanksgiving is not what you’re thankful for — it’s who you’re thankful to. Are you thankful for your children, your career, your home, your health? Then offer up real thanksgiving to God, the Giver of all those great gifts (James 1:17). 

Related: This Thanksgiving: Less Worry, More Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, don’t be like the nine who only felt thankful. Be like the one Jesus applauded — the one who expressed gratitude to God!

Most Americans are experts at Thanksgiving. We know how to carve the turkey, whip the potatoes, prepare the pumpkin pie. But real thanksgiving, the kind that flows from the human heart to God, doesn’t come naturally.

This is where the Bible comes in. It reshapes our beliefs and redirects our behaviors. It teaches us that real thanksgiving isn’t about personal reflection — it’s about returning praise to God. So this Thanksgiving, take sufficient time to praise God around your table. Return thanks to Him for His incredible kindness to you and your family.

It’s a great first step. It may even motivate you to start writing thank you notes again. But I’ll warn you — the cards are getting harder and harder to find.

Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 18 years. He is a regular contributor to LifeZette. This piece originally appeared last year (2016) and has been republished. 

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