I cook at church. A lot. I feed people whenever several gather, when fellowship around a meal is requested. What I don’t do is look for credit, for gratitude, because I know I am really doing it for me. The kitchen has fed my mental health, been my sanctuary, allowed me to get out of the house and serve without engaging too much. No one is ever sure if I am crying because of the onions or a broken heart. It is a blessing for me to be there. Thus as the thank you come in, I feel a twinge of guilt. I deflect, I try to explain how I am given a chance to breathe while I chop and prep and wash dishes. Rarely do folks understand, they still are grateful. It feels awkward, uncomfortable, wrong, to say you are welcome. Yet a gentlemen called me out on this very habit while I was still wearing my coat, when I had just walked into to service this past sunday and I have pondered his words ever since.
His wife shared with me that someone in the first service had raised me up as a joy for a luncheon I had served the previous week. Yikes, I said. I should avoid first service people I said. Still coated, bearing the weight of my bible and my huge purse, I hadn’t even settled in yet and already someone was saying my name outlaid and telling me thank you. Danger Will Robinson! As his wife and I talked, he said, you know you could just say thank you for the compliment. Freeze frame, all movement stopped, no air in building. So I began to share with him how I am blessed by the opportunities to cook, so i started in the litany of blessings I receive. Yet he persisted, he didn’t let me go. He said it could be both and to say thank you. He said he sees women everyday at the university who have no ability to accept a compliment. He teaches them to do so. I learned in that moment to avoid this man and to also try to block his words but they won’t leave me alone.
I know that men and women respond differently to praise. Yep, a huge generalization but still. Women deflect, they say “this old thing?” or “it was on sale” or “it is a blessing to me.” Men high five and joke and flex their muscles. and they say thank you. I have long wondered at the difference, secretly felt pride in the humility women express. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds and surely comes from some learned behavior as a child. Girls are demure, they look away shyly, they poo-poo praise. And more often than not, they feel under appreciated, they struggle to get recognition for their work, they are paid less and do more. They wonder why men on the same team get the spotlight and the glory. Girls, we are doing this to ourselves, in part because we can’t say thank you when receiving said credit, said compliments, said glory.
I could argue that humility is Godlike, that our place in heaven will have more Milano cookies and mugs of always steaming coffee than the men who take credit in this world. In fact scripture says we are to do and pray and make food secretly, lest our rewards be here rather than at the feet of Jesus. I do argue that, usually. Yet this man’s words keep bugging me, are still rolling around in my mind days later. Maybe there is a way to have both. He told me, when someone gives you a present, you say thank you. Say thank you now, when they give the gift of gratitude. I personally don’t like wise men much, I prefer to keep my own twisted counsel. How can I argue with this logic?
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. A day to show our grateful hearts to all around. Even in a horrible year, my heart swells with thanks for all that I have, all those who love me in spite of myself. Being grateful is not my challenge. Accepting gratitude is. Therefore, tomorrow, I will say thank you when someone says this is the best cheesecake they have ever eaten. I will say thank you when someone says they like my sweater, that old thing I have worn a hundred times. I will practice a new kind of gratitude. Maybe a little girl will witness these exchanges and wonder at my audacity and also say thank you when I tell her she set the table beautifully. Maybe the next time I see this man I will tell him he has been working on my soul, and thank him for it. Or more likely, I will duck into the kitchen and start up the dish machine, clean off the prep table.
I am thankful for each of you who chose to take a moment and read my blog, for those of you who tell me my words matter to you. I am thankful for friends and family and friends who are family and I am thankful for being convicted before I get my coat off. The pastor can preach every week about our souls and I am truly marked by his sermons. Yet what happens in the hallway sometimes has more impact. Sorry Pastor, your people are preaching outside of the sanctuary and it is good. Thank you. You are welcome. On this Thanksgiving, will you join me in accepting gratitude as well as giving it?