When I was a freshman in high school I went on The Last Field Trip. It was to the local zoo, supposedly for biology class, but probably to get rid of 400 immature teenagers for a full day with the hopes that we’d learn some manners from the primates on Monkey Island. Regardless, the next day, everyone groaned when we had to write mandatory thank-you notes to the chaperones.
It didn’t seem so bad to me. I had lots of practice (thanks, Mom!), a healthy respect for the adults who bravely accompanied adolescents to stare at equally smelly animals, and my golden rule for schoolwork: never do a boring assignment if you can do an interesting one instead.
(This rule explains the essay on the French Revolution I wrote as a one-act play, my paper on bacon in different world religions, and the report on water pollution done in a tabloid-style exposé. Possibly also why teachers were never quite sure what to do with me.)
I made the thank-you note as funny and personal as I could in the five sentences of space I was given. Afterward, my teacher kept it as an example and said she’d like to photocopy it to send to all the volunteers if she thought she could get away with it.
It was a good moment in my (relatively bleak) freshman year of high school. (No offense to my school but it was an awkward time in my life compounded by mandatory P.E. class where, due to an actual fire, I had to go outside in my swimsuit in front of the whole school. In the snow. True story.)
I have, thankfully, lost some of my freshman year awkwardness, but I didn’t lose my love of writing thank-you notes. Every November, I write and send a few Thanksgiving cards (because Christmas cards are too mainstream), not to pass along thanks for a gift, but just because I owe a huge debt to the people around me.
Seriously. Have you thought about that recently? If you’re like me, there are people you look up to and learn from, people who make you laugh, people who have lived out a quality you’d like to develop, and people who will not assume either the worst or the best of you. They might be lifelong friends or only part of your life for a season, but you are different because of them.
Still not convinced? Okay, here are five good reasons to write a thank-you note to someone this November:
- It’s counter-cultural. Handwritten things take time and effort. So, small-picture, the person getting the note will appreciate that you took that time, and big-picture, you are singlehandedly making a statement that efficiency is not the most important thing in life and that people aren’t only valuable for what you can get out of them.
- People need to be reminded that they matter. It easy to forget in a culture of comparison and competition, and it’s especially important to affirm that the small, daily, “ordinary” actions of people around us, the ones that aren’t usually noticed or appreciated.
- We need to learn to live wholehearted lives. I’ve written before about how it’s difficult for me to be honest with people about how much they mean to me…and why it’s a good practice anyway. Small actions like this train our hearts away from fear and pride and toward gratitude and selflessness, especially if it feels like a risky, hard thing to do.
- Being thankful makes us thankful. As we take time to express gratitude, we realize we’re surrounded by an avalanche of awesome. We didn’t notice it because it accumulated flake by flake—a kind word here, a thoughtful question there, a few challenges and good examples and offers of help throughout the year. Whenever I write out thanks, I find that it changes my attitude, especially when I’m not feeling particularly thankful.
- Stamps. They are basically adult stickers and everyone finds it totally acceptable when you purchase or even collect them. You should take advantage of this little loophole in standard maturity rules.
Let’s be real: it’s been a bit of a November so far, hasn’t it? This year, I’m coming to Thanksgiving dragging a bit, a little beat-up, a little tired, and just jaded enough to qualify my list of blessings.
I’m thankful for freedom of speech…but it’s hard to see so many people using it badly.
I’m thankful for family…but they’re very far away.
I’m thankful for the fact that God’s mercies are new every morning…but so are the worries and the fears and the sheer mundane-ness of daily routines.
Maybe some of the major blessings feel completely crossed off your list this year. Your health is struggling, you lost your job, someone significant to you will not pull up a chair around the table during the holidays. There’s more brokenness than bounty.
Unanswered prayers taunt us from the margins of our journals, unwanted questions prod the raw spots in our life, unknown futures loom with “what ifs” and wonderings. We can (maybe) admit that God is still good and (sometimes) remember that we have a lot to be grateful for.
But it’s still hard.
At this point, we have a choice: we can withdraw into ourselves, maybe putting on a good show, maybe not bothering, and let this Thanksgiving leave behind nothing but a lingering sense of regret and a few extra pounds.
Or we can tell a different story, one that acknowledges how God is using hard times to change us…and that doesn’t forget to be thankful for the people who have been with us through it. In some ways, thanking others is more than a good deed. It is an act of faith, one that says, “No matter what I am going through, God has provided and will continue to provide what I need.” Not always what I want or even what I ask for, but what I need to become more like Jesus.
So, here’s the challenge: between now and the end of November, write three thank-you notes. (Just text/email someone and say, “What’s your address?” It is extremely painless.) It can be to your best friend or an acquaintance you hardly know at all. It can be a full page or three sentences on a postcard. You can express thanks for huge, meaningful contributions to your life, or something small that came at just the right time.
And who knows? Your note might be just what that other person needed as a reminder that God is still good at the end of a long November.