- - Tuesday, October 27, 2015

All of us carry a bag of words which we use to express our thoughts and feelings. Some of the words are used more frequently while others are used rarely if ever. When someone says or does something nice we often reach into our bag and casually toss out the words, “Thank you.” Many of us use the words so often that we rarely pause to think about the value of these words. Some have become so distracted that an act of kindness isn’t even noticed or valued, so no words are expressed. Some people struggle with expressing thanks while others find it fairly easy. As a kid I was taught to say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you, but saying “thank you” can also have an impact on you if you pause long enough to let it.

I’m a bi-vocational pastor so life for me can get a little hectic. Rushing to work in the morning I’ll stop at Dunkin Donuts for my daily dose of caffeine to keep me moving at a fast pace. When I receive my coffee dose, I’ll toss out the words, “Thank you.” A co-worker notices me and holds the door so again I casually toss out the word, “Thanks.” When replying to a text I’m too busy to type full words so I reach into my bag and I break off pieces of words as quickly as possible and type, “Tks.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who was taught to say thanks but the hustle and bustle of life leaves little time to value those words. With Thanksgiving approaching, we may be asked to express what we’re thankful for. We may look into our bag of words and search frantically for something to say, maybe we should think about all those times we’ve tossed out the words “thank you” and share why we were thankful.

Psychologist Robert Emmons has spent years studying the impact that gratitude has on our psyche. Emmons suggest that gratitude is an affirmation that there’s something good in the world beyond ourselves and it’s our quest to find out where that goodness comes from. His research has shown that persons who express thankfulness see many benefits such as a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, more optimism and are more forgiving and outgoing. Our expression of thankfulness acknowledges the good in others and shows our humility in accepting it. I’ve found that being thankful can be a momentary hiding place during a chaotic day. Being thankful gives us space to pause and to see the human goodness of someone else. During that brief moment we are able to silence the noise that may be around us just long enough to express gratitude.

A few weeks ago while having lunch and reading a book at Chick-fil-A, an elderly woman came to refill my drink. Without looking up from my book I tossed out the words, “Thank you.” When she returned I looked up at her and she looked familiar, I paused long enough to consider that at some point in life I may have met her. To my surprise she said, “I remember you, your son attended a school that I worked at, and the school closed a few years ago.” The elderly lady was no longer merely a person to refill my cup but I began to see her as someone who mattered. I allowed myself to think about her life and what her day must have been like. I wondered if she had been standing long, and if it were a strain for her to refill my cup. I wondered if she had the job simply to stay active or to support herself financially. I noticed the creases on her hands and under her eyes, and in that moment, I saw her as a source of goodness in the world.

In an effort to respond to her nice gesture I opened my bag of words to pull out a quick “thank you,” but the words seemed heavier than usual. It was because I had paused long enough to notice her and that the weight of my gratitude had increased. I smiled, looked at her and said, “Ma’am thank you so much.” Her response was, “My pleasure.” I did not know her life story but I knew she had one and I was able to acknowledge it.

While my day was still filled with email responses to send, calls to make, sermons to prepare and people to visit, someone made life a little easier for me with their act of kindness and for that I was thankful. I wonder how many others are carrying a bag of words and casually tossing out expressions of gratitude without allowing themselves to feel the full weight of thanksgiving.

Marquez Ball is an innovative leader for the 21st century and the senior pastor at Uplift Church, in Laurel, MD.

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