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The friendship skills: Obstacles to thankfulness

Thursday July 12 2018

The friendship skills: Obstacles to thankfulness

I’ve been writing the past two weeks about the importance of asking, giving and thanking in friendships. Why don’t we do those actions more often?

Perhaps we are slow to thank people because we really don’t want to admit that we need others. We don’t want to admit that kind of weakness. Perhaps we don’t express thanks because we are so caught up in the stresses of our lives that we forget to take the time for that note or word of thanks. Perhaps we are so caught up in our own lives that we forget to notice what other people have done for us. We can’t thank people for something we haven’t taken the time to notice.

Perhaps the consumer culture has influenced us in deep and profound ways, encouraging us to focus our attention on what we don’t have, rather than noticing what we do have. The sea of advertisements that washes over us encourages us to believe that we need something more. The consumer culture tells us that what we have is not enough. If we are experiencing abundance, if we are feeling happy with life, then we’ll quit shopping. Buy, buy, buy. Whatever you have is inadequate, you need more.

In this sea of advertising, noticing the great gifts God has given us requires intentionality and effort. In the same way, paying attention to what our friends have given us requires a shift of focus away from what we lack. Thankfulness is rooted in noticing what we have been given.

Paul gives the Colossians some general instructions for how to live as Christians:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col 3:15-17).

Thankfulness and gratitude are mentioned three times in those three verses. Gratitude toward God is stressed, but gratitude towards others is implied. Thankfulness enables us to live more fully in peace because thankfulness admits that we need God and we need others, which is the honest truth. The pride of self-sufficiency reduces peace because it is fundamentally dishonest about who we are as human beings. Thankfulness for the caring actions of the people around us affirms that we were created to live in relationship.

Thankfulness shapes us because we take the time to notice the way people are contributing to our lives. As I wrote last week, thankfulness builds bridges because giver and thanskgiver acknowledge their dependence on each other.

Friends ask each other for help and companionship. Friends thank each other for all the ways the friendship nourishes them. Asking, giving, receiving and thanking create bonds between people that say, “We belong together.”

Here are two definitions of friendship given to me in interviews for my book on friendship. See if you can identify the role of asking, giving and thanking that makes possible the things described in these definitions:

“Our real friends are the people we have spent time with, shared experiences with, told our secrets to, exchanged ideas with, supported through difficult times or allowed to support us.”
—Hope, an office manager in her forties

 “Friendship is a commitment to a relationship with another person that involves being intentional about working on the best possible communication with each other and understanding how to serve each other.”
—Emma, a project manager in her fifties

(Next week: Baruch and Jeremiah. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking: We belong together

Friday July 6 2018

The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking: We belong together

Giving and thanking shape friendships. When we ask for help, we are giving our friend a gift, the opportunity to give a gift back to us. And when we thank our friend for that gift, we acknowledge we depend on our friend. We need our friend, and we honestly admit that need. And this binds us together.

Brother David Stendl-Rast – who I quoted in last week’s post on giving, asking, noticing and thanking – believes that the person “who says ‘thank you’ to another really says, ‘we belong together.’ Giver and thanksgiver belong together.”[1] When we ask for help, we create a situation in which we affirm that we belong together with the person we are asking for help. When we thank that person, we are continuing to affirm that we are connected.

I have found that asking for small favors is a great way to nurture a fledgling friendship. After we moved to New Zealand in 2007, I have found myself asking all sorts of small questions, “Can you help me understand how the city council works here?” “Can you tell me which restaurants you like?” “Where do you buy gardening tools?” Later, when I acted on the answers to those questions, I felt grateful to the people who gave me the information, and I tried to remember to thank them.

Even though Dave and I had lived many years in Seattle, when we returned to Seattle in 2017, the same process repeated itself. This time it required quite a bit of humility to ask questions about a city which we expected to feel familiar, but of course many things had changed in the decade we were away. We had to ask for help many times, and we have tried to use those instances as opportunities to affirm that we belong together with old and new friends.

Question asking in online settings builds intimacy in the same small way. “Does anyone know a motel near the Los Angeles airport?” Later, thanking the person who provided the name of a motel affirms the connection between giver and receiver.

In New Zealand, I was thousands of miles from my closest friends, but I continued to ask for their help. Using email, I asked for advice, prayer support and sometimes practical help with something I couldn’t do from a distance. And then I thanked them.

The significance of thankfulness in friendship cannot be overestimated. Perhaps gushing expressions of thanks can be overdone, but noticing the many ways the people around us contribute to our lives, and trying to thank them appropriately, is a key friendship skill.

I have watched my mother write hundreds, perhaps thousands, of thank-you notes. She adheres to an old standard of etiquette. Every time she has meal at another person’s house, every time she attends a party, and every time she receives a gift of any kind, she writes a thank you note.

I don’t write anywhere near as many thank-you notes as she does, but I make a concerted effort to notice all the ways the people around me are helping me, and I try to thank them. A personal word of thanks in a conversation, a thank you by email or other online means, and sometimes a thank-you note.

Friends help us in so many ways, even when we haven’t asked for help.

  • “Thanks for listening to me ramble on about my job the other day. It was helpful to get it out.”
  • “Thanks for the lunch we had last week. I enjoyed the conversation.”
  • “Thanks for giving me a lift to the meeting on Thursday. It was great not to have to drive.”
  • “Thanks for photocopying that article you thought I would enjoy. I appreciate that you remembered me.”
  • “Thanks for your email. I loved hearing from you.”

Thanking connects the giver and the thanksgiver. Thanking shapes relationships because it affirms that we value the link between us. Thanking affirms to the giver that their action matters to us. I figure if I thank people for something, they’re more likely to do it again because they know I value it. Thankfulness is positive reinforcement for things I appreciate receiving from my friends.

(Next week: Obstacles to thankfulness in friendships. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

[1] David Stendl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 17.