Gratitude: Feeling It Isn’t Enough

As leaders in our schools, it is no secret that not one of us is perfect. We all have our weaknesses. We all have our strengths. It is imperative that we are keenly aware which is which. This is true for a number of reasons, including our own development, how we structure our support team, what tendencies we must be aware of ourselves, and perhaps most importantly the maintenance of our humility.

Recognizing the successes, the service, and the sacrifice of others in my school community is one area in which I have recognized the need for much growth in my own life. I can be so task oriented and focused on the future that I easily can fail to appreciate what has already happened or is even happening in the present.

It is easy to make excuses for myself in this regard, but there are at least three good reasons for stopping to recognize others’ successes, service, and sacrifice. First, because people need it. Second, the act of recognizing actually makes us more grateful. And third, because the Bible commands it.

First, one of the lessons that I learned very quickly in assuming the role of Head of School is how much people appreciate being appreciated. If you subscribe at all to the “Love Languages” idea, which I do, then you recognize that people “receive” love differently. As a productivity and efficiency focused person, I highly value when people do acts of service for me more than “words of affirmation” (though I really do appreciate their words). Since “words of affirmation” doesn’t rank as high for me in how I “receive” love from others, it often simply doesn’t occur to me to show that to others, whether it be my own wife, my children, my staff, students, or volunteers at the school. But for many people, a thank you letter that may take five minutes to write re-energizes them for many hours. That is an amazing ROI (return on investment)!

Second, one of the chief benefits, if not the chief benefit, of recognizing others is that it actually produces a greater sense of thanksgiving, appreciation, and joy in me for that person. If we do not slow down long enough to appreciate and to thank, then we will not have the space in our minds and hearts to actually be appreciative and thankful. Sometimes we just need to take a moment to slow down enough for our hearts and minds to catch up to just how blessed we are by those around us. I have found that writing a thank you card by hand, though the person might only be able to decipher every other word due to my poor handwriting, has shaped my heart to be grateful for others. I look forward to writing thank you cards now. I look forward to it because it feels like a celebration—it is a joyous occasion to celebrate someone else. As leaders, we get the opportunity to celebrate daily! So get a huge stack of thank you cards, do yourself a favor, and start joyously celebrating in ink!

Third, Scripture commands us to recognize people. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16.17-18 (emphasis mine): “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.” Before we start moving into theological dissonance in which we excuse ourselves from recognizing others in the name of soli Deo gloria, we see here in Paul’s letter that recognizing those who have served is a way to honor them and to honor God! If it’s true that knowing what we ought to do and failing to do it is sin as James says (James 4.17), then failing to recognize others is not just poor form but actually sinful. The failure to recognize the successes, service, and sacrifice of others fundamentally is a matter of the heart. I have had to do much self-examination of my heart in this matter, and if it is a struggle for you, I encourage you to do the same.

I write this as a person who has struggled much in this area and still struggle. I would not call myself great at this. I can say with confidence that I have grown in this area though, so no matter where you are in all this, in my experience there are few people who have this down pat. I hope this can be an encouragement to you as you seek to lead your people well.

One final word as some food for thought: It has been said: “Never take a person’s dignity. It is worth everything to them and nothing to you.” Perhaps we could flip that on its head and say something like: “”Always recognize a person’s dignity. It is worth everything to them and affirming it cost nothing to you.”

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