Many people dread writing thank you notes. Many more people don’t write thank you notes at all. And while I don’t have many things together – the laundry is piled high as I write this and the dishwasher needs to be run- writing notes of thanks is something I actually enjoy on my to-do list. For me, thank you notes aren’t a to-do but a spiritual practice.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” said the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Churchill knew that generosity was beyond money in one’s pocket given as the widow’s mite. That was a part of it, but in order to rebuild a nation in the wake of a world war, Churchill envisioned a generosity that was as much about a disposition of collective care and agency as it was about monetary power. Generosity for Churchill was one of the founding values that would bring broken people to their own hope.
Thank you notes remind me of the generosity of the people in this world. Each note is a small affirmation of my belief and experience of generosity - as well as an affirmation that I have received a gift. There is a direct relationship between expressing gratitude and cultivating a spirit of generosity. When we feel we have been the recipients of gifts- no matter how small- we are obligated by these gifts to give back to the universe from our wealth.
It is in this giving that we discover how to make a life. Giving of our time, our efforts, our particular skills, our words, and our voice create a life beyond the particularities of employment, identifiers, income, and assets.
This kind of generosity is learned behavior. When I was a small child, my mother handed me a pen and paper to write my first thank you note. It seemed tedious at the time, but over the years I learned to articulate my gratitude and cultivate generosity - even for the small gifts and often for the ones I may not have wanted at the time (a Christmas sweater instead of a new doll).
As we approach this season of gift giving and receiving, I invite you to consider how generosity informs how we might better delve deeper into the opportunity and expression of gratitude. If we didn’t give out of obligation or competition, why might we give? How could we make a life in giving?
And as we receive gifts, how do we make space for the gratitude for what’s been given, even the presents that are far from perfect?
I invite you into a reason for the season, beyond the catch phrases or Christ, into a spiritual journey walked by a humble, grateful man well over two-thousand years ago.
In faith and care,