Lessons on Gratitude From a Leper

So many times when I come to prayer, I have a list of all the things I want God to fix in my life — my temper, my relationship with that certain annoying person in my life (maybe these are related?). Rarely do I start with a “thank you.” What if I did?

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of 10 lepers who see Jesus from across a distance and yell out to him, “Jesus, have pity on us!” I imagine them in a ravine like the lepers in the movie “Ben Hur,” exiled so as to not spread their infectious disease to the rest of society. Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priest. On their way, the lepers are cleansed. One, realizing he has been healed, runs back to Jesus, praising and thanking him. Jesus replies, “Were not 10 healed? Why has only one returned?” Jesus tells the leper to go; his faith has saved him.

Through that grateful leper, I’ve gained a better understanding of the importance of saying “thank you.” As I start to thank God for his mercies in my life, I see more answers to prayers: a new friend, someone’s healing, a found solution. Not only that, my gratitude overflows toward others. I begin to think of other people who have made a difference in my life, especially at this time of year, and can’t help but thank them too.

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Those who serve us

On a recent date night with my husband at a popular restaurant, I overheard an exchange between the host and some guests who came in looking for a table. The guests were excited to try out this tiny place, which had received a lot of press, but they were disappointed when they realized it would be a long wait for a table. The host walked a fine line of managing the guests’ hunger and expectations while still making them feel welcome. On our way out, I told him thank you for performing his job with so much grace. “Thank you,” he said, his eyes filled with tears.

On the way to the car, I mentioned to my husband how taken aback I was by the host’s reaction. My husband replied, “People rarely hear when they’ve done a good job, only a bad one.”

His reaction has prompted me to point out when others in the service industry are kind and helpful — at a department store, the auto repair shop, or even the post office. It rarely takes more than a minute to give a sincere thank you to those who serve us, who often go overlooked.

Those who teach us

My son had an incredible teacher this year. Not only did she teach the curriculum well and communicate effectively with parents, she attended every funeral, First Communion, and birthday party she could. She’s moving away, but I couldn’t let her leave without a proper thank you. An email just wouldn’t cut it. I hand wrote a thank you card including all the things I noticed about her amazing love and care for our families last year.

Maybe a certain teacher pops into your own mind right now as you read this. Maybe it’s one who’s making a difference in your own child’s life right now or one from your own life. Pull out a notecard and let them know how much their work has meant to you.

Those who have a special place in our past

Recently, I was thinking about an old friend. We’ve fallen out of touch — not because of any conflict — life just changes. As I was thinking about her, I realized she taught me so much about prioritizing my life, about learning to say no, and about making sure I keep up with self-care. So, I popped her an email to thank her for those life-changing lessons. Added bonus: My note rekindled our friendship and put us back on each other’s radar.

There are so many thank yous I’ve left unsaid. Old friends who walked some tough times with me or ones that became more than a friend, but a mentor. It’s time to reach out, say thank you, and reconnect.

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Those who care for our souls

I think about my priest often. Our parish is the Seattle Archdiocese Cathedral, and although God has endowed our priest with gifts that make him perfectly suited for our parish, I can see that everyone wants his attention. So, I try to think of ways to be a blessing to him, to thank him for all he does for our church family. Our family prays for him daily, but we also remember him on his birthday and holidays, including St. Valentine’s Day when my children make him homemade cards, complete with cut-out hearts and doilies (all the priests at the rectory get a good chuckle out of them).

I recently had some copies of my son’s First Communion pictures made. I sent the ones with our priest to him with a handwritten note. I know he appreciates these as a reminder to all of us that we are part of a big family.

Other ideas for thanking the women and men religious in your life — regular coffee dates or an invitation to dinner. I attempt to have regular coffee dates with a few of our religious Sisters and laypeople who work at the cathedral. My favorite coffee date with a Sister who had me laughing so hard on our walk back to our cars that I nearly slipped in ice, pulling her down with me! I love sharing God’s joy together.

The practice of showing gratitude amplifies the goodness in our lives. Once you begin, you notice even more opportunities to say thank you. And God’s blessings become even more apparent. All we have to do is say, “Thank you!”

Originally published November 5, 2018.