Picture if you will, a 10-year-old mingling with the audience after a piano recital. She, along with 20 or so other students, have just finished a nerve-wracking demonstration of their talents. She is relieved and a little bit proud. She is also hungry, not for cookies and punch, but for praise.
“You played very nicely,” says an accomplished pianist, a guest of the teacher’s, coming up to the girl and smiling.
The girl, smiling in return, replies, “Oh, I’m not nearly as good as you.” She thinks she is being clever. She thinks she is being humble.
The woman hesitates. She does not know how to respond. She says something under her breath, smiles again, but more wanly this time, and turns away.
The girl is left realizing — too late — that she has been an idiot.
That is my most embarrassing moment. Sure, I’ve had plenty of other discomforting moments but that one — the one where I realized that what I’d taken as humility was actually ungratefulness — tops my list. I still feel queasy remembering my response to that kind lady’s words.
Sometimes saying “thank you” is not as easy as it sounds. If we are in need of food and someone hands us a free meal, a heartfelt “thank you” can feel vulnerable. Brushing off a kindness can be easier because it hides the fact that this truly was a need that we, in our own power, were unable to meet. That’s embarrassing.
On the other hand, saying “thanks” can make us feel prideful. I have an acquaintance like that. It’s hard for her to acknowledge praise because to accept it is to admit that she did a thing worth lauding, whereas in her opinion she just did a thing that anyone ought to do, so it’s nothing special. She feels like she’s patting herself on the back if she were to say “thank you” for any praise you give her.
Which perhaps is why I responded as I did to the kind words of the pianist when I was 10 years old. She was expressing her appreciation of how I played … and all I could do was say that I was bad in comparison to her. As if any normal 10-year-old could compare to a woman who’d be playing for 40 years! I thought I was being self-effacing. But really, I was being churlish.
I’ve been thinking a lot about giving thanks recently, and not just because Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. I’ve started keeping a journal of things I’m thankful for. I know that this is kind of a “thing” now. You can even buy “Gratitude Journals” and other similar things at bookstores. So I guess from the standpoint of pop culture, I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but it’s a wagon worth riding. It’s been really good for me to keep a list of things for which I am thankful. It makes me think through my day in a positive way.
I’m trying hard to be specific with my thanks, which I think is important. Generalizations tend to mean less because they’re unfocused. I’m looking at the little things in my daily life. The less obvious things. The things I tend to take for granted.
I would encourage you to keep a record of the things for which you are thankful. You could do it for a month or do it for a year or do it for the rest of your life. And remember, you don’t need a fancy journal, you can keep track of your blessings in a 50-cent spiral notebook just as easily! Once you start thinking more intentionally about being thankful, you’ll start seeing things throughout your entire day.
By the way, dear readers, you are on my list because I’m thankful for each and every one of you.
“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” 1 Chronicles 29:13 NIV
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.