When “Thank You” is All You Have

One of my favorite times of the day is bedtime for the kids. Yes, they wear me out some days and, if you’re honest, your kids wear you out also. I know because there are some days that your kids wear me out, too.

Bedtime feels like the finish line, if not for the nightly chores of cleaning up the kitchen and straightening the house that follow. Leah and I let the kids decide who “gets” to put them to bed at night. Most nights our daughter chooses Leah and my son – sometimes out of pity, I think – chooses me. He’s a good boy.

Since Jack was born, bedtime prayers have been a part of our nightly process. I used to say the prayer but, as Jack has gotten older (he’s seven now), he’s taken this as his role.

Last week, Jack was saying his prayer and, after thanking God for the day, his family, his friends, the food that he ate, and “all the other blessings”, Jack paused. After a few moments, he simply said, “Lord, I don’t know what else to say tonight, except ‘Thank you’.”

When “thank you” is all that you have, “thank you” is enough.

Whether it’s in our spiritual lives, our family and career relationships, our friendships, the waiter that refills your water glass, or just that person that lets you merge in traffic, “thank you” has become, a lot of the time, implied. It needs to be explicit.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “What do you say?”, from my parents when I was young. They were instilling in me the importance of verbalizing my appreciation with two little words, “thank” and “you”. Those words don’t need to be replaced with a good tip or a wave of the hand or nod of the head, although there’s nothing wrong with those gestures. There are at least three things that saying “thank you” does.

1. It acknowledges the other person and their effort and sacrifice
No one likes to feel like their efforts went unnoticed. We’ve probably all been caught holding the door as a stream of people walk through it. Person after person walks through the doorway oblivious that someone else is holding the door as they pass. Someone will eventually say something like, “Didn’t know you were going to end up being the doorman today, did you?” Even when your efforts are accidental – I really didn’t mean to hold the door for 184 people – it’s still nice to hear ‘thank you’.

2. It shows your appreciation
I was at a restaurant a few years ago – one of the upscale $5 joints that I frequent for lunch – and the waiter refilled my water glass after every sip that I took. After every refill, I said “thank you”. I said it so much that I got tired of saying thank you, but when you order the cashew chicken EXTRA spicy, you need to keep the liquids flowing. I really did appreciate the service, so I kept saying it.

3. It frees your conscience and allows you to help others
Maybe it’s because my parents were such ardent supporters of saying thank you, that there have been times when I forgot – or neglected – to say thanks to someone and I felt a need to go make it right. I couldn’t leave those words unsaid. Anytime you’re dwelling on something that you should have done, you are missing the opportunity to do what you should be doing.

In a podcast earlier this summer, Dr. Kevin Elko said something that I repeat in my head almost every day. “Go be kind. If you miss, it won’t be by much.” Express your gratitude and appreciation frequently and freely. If you miss with a “thank you”, you won’t miss by much.