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.
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.”
In closing, JUST SAY THANK YOU!
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.”