Please! Just Say Thank You

We humans are excessively good at swinging on pendulums from one extreme to another and never finding that very calm and less dizzy spot in the middle on many issues. The one I will expound upon involves the two simplest words in the English vocabulary, “Thank you.”

I was quite young when I had many run-ins with this particular issue. It always happened when people paid me compliments.

Sunday morning

Well-meaning elderly lady: “Why Amanda! Don’t you look nice today?”

Me, turning red and glaring around in my attempts at not looking pleased: “I don’t really. See, my socks are falling down.”

Elderly lady: Looks confused and wanders off to find a seat.

I was under the impression that if I accepted the compliment it would only make people think I was vain, proud and silly. Besides, my socks were falling down, so I couldn’t possibly look nice. What I failed to consider was the fact that, in my attempts at being humble, I had actually insulted the lady by implying that she didn’t have the foresight to notice that my socks were falling down before paying the compliment and was therefore demented. Besides that, I hadn’t really been humble. Mostly because I was so afraid people would think I was proud. If I had really been humble, I wouldn’t have been thinking about how my response would reflect upon me instead of how I could encourage the lady through my response.

There were far too many instances like that in my life. My parents, noticing the issue often admonished me, “Amanda, when someone pays you a compliment, just say thank you! That’s all that’s necessary.”

“But most of the time, I don’t feel like they’re true,” I often protested.

“So, are you calling all these people liars?”

“Well…no,” I pondered. (Never thought of it like that before.)

“Don’t you think they say these things because they mean them?”

“Probably. I can’t imagine why.”

“Then all you need to say is thank you. That is, ONLY thank you and NOT, ‘I can’t imagine why you feel that way because I’m really not but thank you anyway.’ Just say thank you!”

If you have a problem accepting compliments graciously, you’re probably an amateur theologian like I was, and can come up with very high-sounding and noble reasons for being ungracious. Here’s one argument, “Compliments are ungodly. This is because we are but unworthy sinners who deserve nothing but damnation. We don’t deserve anything good.”

Duh! Kind of like salvation? When we get things we don’t deserve, it gives us all the more reason to be thankful! So just say thank you.

I worked hard to develop a thankful habit. However much it pained me, however much protests rose to my lips, I learned to say a simple thank you to compliments made in my direction.

Having covered the one side of the pendulum swing, I will now discuss the opposite and equally ridiculous side. It is ridiculous because its error is so subtle and sneaky.

Have you ever sat in church and listened to a beautiful hymn sung by a talented individual in the congregation? The song meant so much to you, that you sought this person out after church and told him how much it encouraged you. That’s when it happened—an otherwise clear-headed person assumed a groveling posture, fixed a sanctimonious simper on his face, and said, “Oh, don’t look at me. It was all God and not me. Praise the Lord.”

Now I do understand what people are trying to convey when they say things like this–the general principle that all our talents are gifts of God, that when we manifest good fruit it’s the spirit of God working through us, and we should give all the glory to God, etc., etc., etc. However. I already know that. So when I compliment someone for singing a song, I do not expect to hear sermon number two for the day. All I really need to hear is a simple thank you.

Here’s the deal. If all of those principles about God working through us are true, and they are, then they are true in every facet of life, not just singing in church. Suppose, then, that your mother cooks a fabulous dinner some evening. Sighing with satisfaction after the meal, you tell her, “Wow, Mom! That was so good! Thanks.” Imagine that instead of the usual response of “Thanks, honey” she says something like, “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord.” Wouldn’t that seem just a little strange to you?

To carry the illustration a little further, imagine you’ve been in a car accident, been rendered unconscious, and have stopped breathing. The paramedics are working overtime to bring you back while your weeping family stands close by. Suddenly, you open your eyes and begin to breathe again. “She’s breathing!” someone shouts in joy. Sitting up and wagging your finger, you begin to admonish him, “You know I’m not really breathing. God is responsible for every breathe I take. Don’t look at me, look at God.”

When you finally get to Heaven and God says to you, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord,” do you really think you’re going tell Him, “You know, Lord, I don’t know why you’re commending me because you’re the one who was working all the goodness and faithfulness in my life”? Certainly not! If you, blinded by His breathtaking glory, can muster up any words at all while you lie flat on your face in front of Him, they’ll be two simple words, three at the most, and they’ll go like this, “Thank you, Lord.”


Addendum 1: Please do not think that I object to giving all praise and credit to God. In fact, there are so many people in my life who are in the habit of saying, “Praise the Lord,” after saying “thank you” to compliments in such a sincere and heartfelt way, that it warms my heart. But there are a few guidelines that should be followed. If you can say, “Praise the Lord,” without scraping and bowing, OR thinking, “If you were more spiritual, you would praise the Lord instead of complimenting me,” OR thinking, “My, look how spiritual I’m being by refusing to take the credit for my singing, playing, etc…,” OR getting super, sugary sweet all of the sudden, then it’s safe to say you are expressing it in the proper attitude rather than parroting a platitude.

Addendum 2: The sentence, “Don’t look at me, look at God,” should be avoided in nearly all circumstances. Since the Bible instructs us to be examples to the believers, saying such a thing does not heap praises on God. On the contrary, it actually directs attention nowhere in particular allowing you to successfully escape scrutiny. Popular culture has a phrase for this—“passing the buck.”


God Will Provide

“God will provide…” I heard that a lot growing up. At various times throughout my childhood, my dad was a Christian school teacher, a pastor or both. Any way you look at it, he wasn’t rolling in the dough. Most of the time he was only scraping up enough flour to make a thin paste. I remember going several weeks in a row without my dad receiving any pay check. Though we qualified for government aid many times over, my parents refused to apply. Add to this a liberal dose of fairly serious health problems for my dad, mom and even myself, and you have a very interesting picture. Still, God did provide. I never went hungry, slept on a park bench or wore threadbare clothes. It didn’t make sense. We didn’t have the money, but we always had what we needed and the medical bills always got paid.

When I was little, I just took it for granted. I knew we didn’t have a lot of money, but I never worried about it. The closest I came to stressing out about money matters were those Christmases when Dad warned us there might not be any presents. (I should mention that money always turned up for Christmas, too.) I did not know the details of our financial situation, but Mom and Dad were taking care of it, so I didn’t trouble myself. They said God would provide and I believed it.

But now, I’m an adult and I don’t live with my parents anymore and I have to take care of it. Guess what. God still provides. Though I’ve been told I’m an excellent writer, I’ve as yet been unable to convince any publishers that the population at large will think I’m an excellent writer and buy books. So, I’m not making a whole lot of money at the moment. I have enough to cover the bills, school, gas, daily expenses and gas. (Mostly gas.) But I don’t have any extra. Imagine my annoyance, then, at discovering a rash on my elbow last month which quickly began to spread to my legs and neck and arms. After a month of trying various home remedies to no avail, I finally broke down and went to the nearest walk-in clinic. (By the way, I have no health insurance.) I was a little peeved. It looked like I was going to have to break into the money I’d been saving up for next school semester, and I was not impressed. But something had to be done. My neck was one mess of hives and I itched constantly. One hundred and fifty dollars later, I was back home on a low dose of steroids and some gooey stuff to put on my elbow. I had also been informed that my blood work had not been normal. So I really ought to follow up with a rheumatologist. I remember telling myself, “God will provide.” And then I thought, “Yup, right out of my savings account. Oh well, at least He put money in my savings account.”

About a week later, I found myself at a wedding rehearsal where I was to be the main pianist. I had been practicing for this wedding for several months and I played well. Not perfectly, but well. Afterwards, the father of the bride walked up to me and said, “I just want to thank you for all the work you’ve put into this and here is a little something for your trouble.” He pushed a one hundred dollar bill in my hand. Later that evening, the groom pulled me aside and said, “I saw that my father-in-law gave you something for playing, but I also wanted to give you something too.” I looked down at a fifty dollar bill. I had not planned on being paid for that wedding. Certainly not a hundred and fifty dollars. The groom and his family are long-time friends and I considered my playing as more of a wedding gift to him and his honey. Still, in one evening, God dumped the entire cost of that doctor visit in my lap.

That was pretty neat. But there’s more. I set up an appointment with a doctor my parents have gone to for years. A very no-nonsense, no-frills M.D. (“Don’t go to that rheumatologist,” he said cheerfully, “All he’ll do is pump you full of Prednisone. Trade a month of relief for a lifetime of misery.”) His visits cost a grand total of fifty dollars. That’s ridiculously cheap, but fifty dollars isn’t exactly pocket change for me. Last Friday, I was busily teaching three of my piano students, all siblings, at their home. In the course of conversation, I mentioned I was excited about the busy weekend ahead of me. I was going to be graduating for my Associates Degree in Arts and it was so good to be done with school for the summer. As I was leaving, their mom handed me an envelope and congratulated me on finishing. In the car I opened the envelope. Care to guess what was inside the very purple, very glittery card? That’s right. Fifty dollars. I sparkled all day long for more reasons than the glitter.

My parents have been openly criticized for staying in a line of work that paid very little. My Dad’s been called everything from stupid to lazy for teaching in Christian education and intentionally keeping his family in poverty. But I am thankful for being poor, because I know things that a lot of people don’t. For one thing, I know that God provides. People who have always had good jobs and good insurance, do not truly understand what I mean when I say that. So many times when I was young, God provided money that we could not provide for ourselves through people who had no clue that Dad hadn’t been paid for weeks or that he was staring several thousand dollars- worth of medical bills in the face. I got to see God work on our behalf first hand, and it’s because of our poverty and God’s work that I could face my own financial situation with relative peace. It’s a level of discomfort that I would not trade for anything, because it’s allowed me to see God follow through on His promises. King David said, “I have been young, and now I am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Psalm 37:25) It’s true. I know. God will provide.