lenten journal: thank you


In a staff meeting recently, we were discussing ways to improve our daily processes—ways to make things more effective and, well, easier on everyone. E-mail is our primary means of communication, since not everyone is in the same office. We all get lots of e-mail. In the course of the discussion, one person suggested that we go back to something they had done previously, which was to not send thank you notes when someone completed a task or answered a request. “We know we’re thankful; we don’t need to say it.”

I’ve been thinking about those words for a week.

My previous corporate experience, working at the computer store, we were trained to say thank you at every turn. The only thing we were taught to assume was positive intent. Any word of gratitude or praise was worth saying out loud or writing down, both as words of encouragement and also to grow the trust necessary for more difficult feedback, should the need arise. Letting the thanks go unsaid sets the stage to let other things go unsaid as well—things that need to be said, but are not said easily. After five years in that environment, it’s not surprising that I was startled by the idea for foregoing saying thank you for the sake of a few seconds and one less e-mail or two, but what has haunted me about the suggestion runs on another level.

Life has a centrifugal force that pulls us apart. The flow of our days, from e-mail to errands, from schedules to surprises, draws us away from each other unless we choose differently. The day to day demands can lead us to see those around us as little more than furniture. We don’t need to know the names of the people at the dry cleaners, or the grocery store line. We just need them help us get our stuff done. Closer to home, we each have our family roles to play, or our work roles, with people we know and love, yet life pulls us apart just the same. When Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” in 1 Thessalonians, who he was calling us to thank is not specified. Thank God? Certainly. Over the past few days, it has also struck me that I am not misreading the text to think he might also be calling us to a more extravagant expression of our gratitude: say thank you every chance you get.

Thank you for making the bed. Thank you for pouring my coffee. Thank you for opening the door. Thank you for filling my water glass. Thank you for doing you job. Thank you for answering my e-mail. Thank you for picking up our trash. Thank you for doing a job I would never want to do. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for—well, just thank you.

Every little gust of gratitude blows against the centrifugal force of life, pulling us closer together. It is not a waste of time, nor is it merely meeting an expectation or an obligation; to say thanks is to recognize our shared humanity, to relish in the resonance of being created in the image of God. Don’t think for a minute that it doesn’t matter.

by W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is



  1. I was struck by your sentence “The day to day demands can lead us to see those around us as little more than furniture.” I remembered two movies in which people were furniture- Soylent Green, in which female prostitutes were furniture, and Bruno, where Paula Abdul sits on “Mexican chair people” while talking about her humanitarian work. Saying thank you to all helps remind us that we are not furniture. Thanks for the column.

  2. Thank you Milton. Your team might want to check out Slack for messaging. You can set up different teams. Sounds complicated but isn’t really. We use it for the the quick comms…think digital walkies and has notification control/snooze if you need to focus.

  3. Halle freakin’ lujah! I will be asking for your permission to quote you in my forthcoming book, “Please Read This Book. Thank You” It’s about why it is so important to use those two words throughout one’s life. There is so, so, so much to be thankful for. We don’t need to ignore, take for granted or dismiss anyone or anyone’s deeds, big or small.

  4. Thank you for your essay, Milton. I agree totally. Two things occur to me: one is that I still write emails as if they’re letters and am often told I don’t need to begin with “Dear” and end with a closing and my name. The terseness bothers me, and so I soldier on in my old-fashioned way, greeting people. The second thing is that once years ago, my mother said of me and Michael, “You two are just too damned polite to one another!” I was startled, and told her that the politeness worked for me, and I thought we’d been married quite a while because of it. Let the thank-ious rain down!

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