What Do You Say?

I went out to eat this week. As the waiter handed me a menu, I thanked him. When he brought me my food, I thanked him. When he handed me the bill, I thanked him. And when I paid him, he thanked me.

This exchange brought back the words of my parents. When I was a child and someone gave me something (whether I liked it or not), my mother would ask me, “What do you say?” The answer was always “thank you.” Later in my teens, my mother had me write “thank you” notes for every gift. By this time, saying thank you was becoming not an option, not an obligation, but a habit.

At every meal, Daddy would say the blessing…or grace…or give thanks. “Lord, make us thankful for these and all the many blessings we have received,” was his usual prayer. Occasionally, an addendum was added for healing, or safety, or peace, before the “amen” was said. Then we ate. So the act of giving thanks was engrained in me.

When I became a mom, I followed that path and asked my boys, each time they received a compliment or a gift,  “What do you say?” They, sometimes robotically, said “thank you.”

I believe that giving thanks became a habit, but as with any habit, it loses its power and effectiveness when it is done subconsciously (without thought). So, I’m trying to be intentional with my thankfulness. With each new day, I try to remember to tell God “thank you.” With each answered prayer, I tell Him “thank you.” However, when the day is dreary or the news is bad or the answers are elusive, I have to make myself give Him thanks. Is that a bad thing?

Rejoice always,  pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

This letter to the believers at Thessalonica, was among the first of Paul’s epistles that became part of our present version of the Bible. At the time of his writing this letter, Paul had been through some trials and tribulations, but the worst of his persecution was yet to come. It would get worse, much worse.

A few years ago, we visited the Mamertine Prison in Rome, Italy. It is the place where Paul and Peter (not at the same time) were imprisoned before their deaths. Although it’s now a shrine that tourists can visit, the original was just a hole in the ground, a dungeon that was dark and damp and horrifying. This was not the first time Paul had been imprisoned, but it was the last time. This prison was a holding cell for people who were to be executed soon. So if you found yourself in Mamertine, you weren’t long for this world. However, Paul wrote this, his last letter, to Timothy from Mamertine,  “I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience…” (2 Timothy 1:3)

Remembering to be thankful, no matter the circumstances, is hard. But if I force myself to say thanks, I believe it is a good thing. I just ask myself that old question, “What do you say?”

I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.(Philippians 4:12)

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