By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Gratitude is a powerful commodity, not unlike the power of forgiveness. People who either receive forgiveness or forgive someone else usually realize they have experienced something significant — even life-changing. Likewise, one could debate whether it is more of a blessing to demonstrate gratitude or to be the recipient of thanks. Both produce a healthy rush.
A friend phoned our office earlier this week just to say thanks for a story about a message he preached that was reported in a recent issue of Word&Way. He said that people don’t hesitate to heap criticism on our staff, so he thought it was only fair to compliment us and say thanks for a job well done. The call made my day — and Jennifer Harris’ day, too, when I passed along the compliment. After all, she had written the story.
It was nice to hear someone pause in the course of a busy day to express gratitude. Most of us feel gratitude, but we don’t always take time to express it like this caller did.
A couple of weeks ago, I made my first visit to the Illinois Baptist State Association annual meeting since I left the staff there and came to work for Word&Way almost 12 years ago. Illinois Baptists were celebrating their centennial as a state convention and they did a wonderful thing: The centennial committee and executive director Nate Adams invited all the living former staff members to come back and join in the celebration.
It appeared that 40-50 of us “formers” — more than a few of them even older than I — came to watch videos and enjoy a little jaunt down memory lane. At a point in the evening session, we former staff members were invited to stand across the front of the meeting room. I felt like a youngster — a grey-haired youngster, to be sure — but nonetheless an excited youngster.
I looked up and down the lineup and picked out familiar faces, including Ernest Mosley, who was the executive director who hired me. And Betty Walker, who worked with me on the staff of the Illinois Baptist until she retired after 40 years or so. There was Jim Smith, former executive director and later president of the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission.
That happened with many others.
I have often said that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in Baptist life, but I believe I heard someone point to us and say that the current staff was now standing on our shoulders.
And we weren’t even dead yet!
The reference was intended as a powerful statement of gratitude — and that’s how I and the other “formers” took it. I confess that I had never thought of anyone standing on my shoulders, only that I continue to stand on the contributions others have made for generations and generations.
That moment of “gratitude received” produced a euphoric sense of “gratitude in return” within me. It was no small thing to have been given an opportunity to serve Baptists in the great State of Illinois — my home state. During a lengthy reception following the evening session, I took almost two hours to eat a half slice of cake. Every time I started to take a bite, I spotted someone else to greet. There was so much catching up to do.
Only a few people remained when I left to spend the night with my grandkids and their parents, who live in a nearby community. It was nearing midnight.
I am grateful for the opportunity to go back and grateful to reunite with people who have meant so much to me through the years.
Going back was a powerful lesson in gratitude. Wade Paris is right to say, “A day designated for thanksgiving will not make it so.” But I suspect gratitude begets gratitude, and gratitude sparks within us a desire to give of ourselves in significant ways to others.
I know many people who will spend Thanksgiving Day showing gratitude to God by serving hot meals to those who would not enjoy a real turkey dinner otherwise. Some people send cards expressing thanks to friends and relatives at this time of year. Some look for ways to say thanks to members of the military and their families. Others share acts of kindness with people like firefighters and law enforcement officers.
Some will express gratitude for good health by assisting the sick or disabled.
While “a day designated for thanksgiving will not make it so,” a grateful heart and a grateful spirit can’t be confined to a single day of the year either.