Gratitude Withheld

Unspoken gratitude is one of our most thoughtless acts. In staying silent when we are loved, served or cared-for, we deprive the giver of knowing the meaning­—the joy—that their kindness has provided. And yet I do this all the time; I unintentionally withhold gratitude.

Some lessons in life I have had to learn the hard way, and others I have needed to learn repeatedly. I’m not proud of it, just being honest about my brokenness. I have found in my marriage that there are times I choose the less wise response over the clear winner in the area of expressing gratitude and thanks. I don’t mention marriage to exclude those who are single; it’s just the most-present relationship in my life, which means I make the majority of my mistakes there… so easy fodder for a post about gratitude.

One of the lessons I have had to learn far too many times is to verbally express my gratitude toward Christina for the roles she plays in our family — as a mother, partner, leader, friend and guide; all while working at a job that she cares deeply about. She’s truly extraordinary at these varied roles. So why don’t I tell her “Thank You!” more often? Why don’t I express gratitude when she sets up dinner with friends, for killing it at her job and the great partner she is in financially providing for our family?

In our marriage, we work to be equal from the big decisions to the menial tasks around the house. We have a filter of shared responsibility and partnership as we navigate this messy life. Not perfect. In fact, we make mistakes all the time, which is why a great counselor is also helpful from time to time for check-ups. But we give it our best, flawed effort. I mention this because at times, I convince myself that we’re both just pulling our weight in the relationship, so why do I need to express gratitude? Shouldn’t she just know that I appreciate her because we’re in this together? I realize as I type these words how crazy they sound now, but in the moment, they sure seem to make perfect sense to me. As I mentioned, I’m a slow learner and plenty flawed…

I propose that there are a few potential reasons that I don’t—and we don’t—adequately verbalize gratitude in this and other relationships in my—and our—life. See if any of these resonate with you as well as you consider your relationships with parents, friends, siblings, coworkers, significant others, etc.

  1. We are simply going too fast to notice the efforts of others and to take the time to pause and say thanks.
  2. We are too distracted by technology and media and have become desensitized to the actual humans in our lives.
  3. We think that the other person should just do these things without the need to hear gratitude.
  4. In our insecurity, we are scared/threatened that to acknowledge the good of another person somehow diminishes our worth/value/power.

Certainly the first few are more benign than the last two, but no less harmful. Willful disregard for another person feels the same as ignorance or lack of awareness. I, for one, am tired of blaming pace and distraction for my lack of loving behavior with anyone in my life. They may be culturally acceptable reasons to be insensitive, but the bottom line is that regardless of motivation, people are still being hurt by unspoken gratitude.

As I shared above, the third reason is approaching the topic from the wrong perspective. Instead of asking how can I bless someone with my gratitude, I’m asking do they really need or deserve it. This is inherently judgmental of their motivation for the need for praise rather than accepting that it’s my responsibility—and should be my desire—to freely share gratitude with the people in my life. This is especially true as a person of faith who believes that I have been given SO much grace. Who am I to stand in judgment of any other person? My gratitude and grace should be perpetual.

If there was ever a week to take a step toward growth in this area for each of us, it’s certainly Thanksgiving week. If you’d like to join me in pursuing a better way, here are a few suggestions that I’m working on right now:

  1. Confess that I have unintentionally and intentionally withheld gratitude from those who deserved it.
  2. Begin to take awareness more seriously by looking up and paying attention to how people treat others and me. Look less at my phone.
  3. When I see someone being kind, serving, taking care of tasks, or being generous, say “Thank You!” Notice and say something—whether it’s the check-out person at the grocery or my most dear family members.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 as needed.

Let’s fill this Thanksgiving week with gratitude toward those we interact with, and maybe—just maybe—it will rub off on the weeks that follow and become a new way of seeing.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Jon