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There is not one among us who did not learn the response of "thank you" as a child. In fact, it's usually one of the first things we are taught. "Say 'thank you,'" our parents insist as they are handing us the cookie or blanket we are demanding. "Kay-koo" is one of our earliest phrases, and we are both expected and praised heartily for using it.

But there is a problem. Just as quickly as we learn to say "thank you," we also learn that it always seems to come with a catch. We don't say it until we have been given something. It's always used in some sort of exchange. You give/I get/I say "thank you"/you say "you're welcome." We all know the drill, which feels desperately incomplete if even one piece of it is missing. We wait to offer our thanks, selfishly hoarding these precious words until we have proof that another person has deemed us worthy of what we want. Thus, "thank you" becomes more of an obligation than a spontaneous eruption of joy. Although whatever we have been given was probably meant to help us feel good, we're supposed to say "thank you" whether we liked what we were given or not. If we don't, we are considered unmannerly, ungrateful, rude, or depressed.

by Aimea Saul

The more we use "thank you" this way, the more it loses its original intent, which is to make some generous soul feel good. After a while, we never know if the person saying it truly means it or not. And it's a double-edged sword: if they don't say or express their thanks at all, we're annoyed. Worse, we've learned to use "thank you" sarcastically, as in "thanks for nothing!" Or, "thanks a ton for dumping all that work on me." "Thank you" has become something of a burden in modern society, and could really use replacement.

But the Gift of Thanks is different. It goes beyond acknowledgement, gratitude, and obligation to awareness, delight, and contentment. It comes with a feeling of pure happiness that is temporary, but memorable. The Gift of Thanks makes us feel very, very peaceful, even if just for a short while. That's enough to make us want to use it again and again and again.

Who or what can you bless?

The Gift of Thanks answers the question, "Who or what can I bless?" And what's interesting about this question is that we will have no idea of the answer until it is presented to us. The Gift of Thanks keeps us in constant service to God by delivering us to one another. There is wonder in it, as we never know how our blessings will show up or where we are to distribute them once they do. By using this gift, we trust that we will simply be in the right place at the right time to receive what we - or someone else - needs. You will never fear lack again, nor will you doubt your worth or purpose here on earth.

I have found several ways to bring this gift into use. The first and best way is to make a wish in the form of a prayer: "Thank you, God, for providing me with what I need right now." Remain still for a few moments after you have expressed your prayer, to offer your peacefulness "in exchange" for what you are about to be given. You may or may not like the form the answer takes, thinking, "This isn't what I prayed for!" But if you step back and reflect, you will likely find that whatever you have received is absolutely perfect for you.

If you're the kind of person who likes more control, you might want to try a more child-like variation of praying with thanks: make a wish. But this method comes with a warning: Be careful what you wish for. I once worked with a woman who wailed, "I wish I had a car that didn't have 180,000 miles on it!" When that one broke down, the next one she was offered had over 200,000 miles on it. (I later suggested that she should have wished for a brand new Jaguar.)

Most of us learned to keep our wishes to ourselves, being warned that they wouldn't come true if we shared them with others. But when it comes to using the Gift of Thanks, I have found the opposite to be true. You simply make your wish out loud, thereby releasing a desire of your heart. (Do it when you're alone if you're self-conscious around others.) When it comes to wishes, the more specific, the better, but there's a caveat. If you make a wish, be careful not to immediately counteract it by thinking or saying, "Wishes never come true." If you believe that, then this is not the way to use your gift. The speed with which your gift shows up depends on how clear you are about it. So if you are very, very clear about what you want and can truly say that receiving it feels good and right to you (imagine that you already have, and notice your emotions), then go for it.

The third and possibly best way to use the Gift of Thanks is not to consciously direct it at all. In other words, ask for nothing and wish for nothing. Instead, using your Gift of Trust, know that your "radio transmitter" to God is always switched "on," and that God's universe can hear you loud and clear without your having to say or do anything. To use your Gift of Thanks this way, turn your focus outwards and start paying attention to what's happening to you in your life. You will likely see that reassurance is being given, doors are opening, and help is arriving without your specific request. You are being blessed, and the experience will feel holy to you, although possibly only in retrospect. This is what happened to Ellen.

Ellen's story

Ellen had been in the hospital for weeks, and there was no end in sight. She was grateful to be alive; she had narrowly escaped death from a bacterium that swept through her flu-weakened body with a ferocity that forced a team of surgeons to remove most of the skin and tissue from one of her legs. Now she was faced with repeated skin-grafting surgery and months of rehabilitation. At age 33, all she wanted to do was go home to her husband and two young sons, ages 1 and 4. But there was no chance of that at the moment.

The days and nights dragged on wearily for Ellen. She was beginning to feel frustrated that her life would never be the same again. Her doctors and nurses tried to reassure her that, in time, she would be able to live normally, but their words seemed hollow.

One day, as she lay in her hospital bed, a housekeeper entered her room. Ellen had seen her before, but didn't know her name. They began to chat. The woman asked Ellen what church she attended, and they soon discovered that both were Catholic.

"I have some waters from Fatima," the woman said, a little shyly. "My uncle gave them to me. I'd been saving them, but something told me you needed them. I'd like to give them to you . . . if you want them."

At first, Ellen didn't know what to think of the woman's offer. "But then it hit me," she said later. "Fatima - major miracles!" So she told the woman, yes, she would very much like to receive her present.

The woman smiled nervously, but happily. "I wanted to bring them with me, but I'm not a priest," she said, which made Ellen think. What would she do with the waters? Drink them? Ask her priest to anoint her? Pour them on her wounded leg?

The next day, the woman returned. She had her hand wrapped tightly around a small clear vial with a white lid that looked something like an empty pill container. It had a piece of masking tape wrapped around it, upon which was typed, "Fatima Water." The woman handed the tiny jar to Ellen. Ellen looked at it with wonder. The water inside didn't even look particularly pure or clear. Although the water seemed quite ordinary, Ellen knew that the woman's gesture was not. "I felt overwhelmed at the power of love and kindness from a stranger," she said. She looked at the woman gratefully. "I don't know what to say. Are you sure you want to give this up?"

The woman nodded. "It's for you." She paused, carefully considering what she would say next. "I've watched you deal with a lot of very difficult things, and it makes me want to handle my own life differently." After the woman had gone, Ellen turned the vial over and over in her hand. Was this water really from Fatima? And if it was, what was she supposed to do with it?

As she lay wondering, a familiar technician came in the room. "Do you know the name of the woman who was just in here?"

The technician shrugged. "When I looked in earlier, I was under the impression that she was one of your dearest friends."

She told the story again and again to every staff person who came in her room, but no one seemed to know the name of the mysterious woman. Ellen began to wonder if an angel had visited her, but the woman seemed too tentative for that. She put the vial on her bed tray, and kept it there for days. Why had she received this now?

"Why me, God?" she asked one night, and the answer came in something of an epiphany. Ellen had been wondering if she would ever get well. Her despair was so deep that she knew that only God could understand her feelings about all she had been through. The mystery woman brought Ellen hope and the implied promise that she would recover, presented in a form that Ellen would accept and understand.

Ellen knew she had been blessed. And suddenly, she knew exactly what to do with the precious vial: absolutely nothing. Regardless of the origin of the vial and its waters, their power lay not in the biology of the contents, but in her belief and faith that healing was, indeed, not only possible, but desirable. The gift was brought to remind her of that at exactly the moment she needed it most. There was nothing she needed to "do" with the water except be with it and feel its legend and love flowing through her.

Ellen got out of the hospital and rehab several months later, and returned home to her family. She had a third child the following year, whom she calls her "miracle baby." Although her life is not exactly as it was before, it is good, and she is grateful to have her own leg, rather than a prosthesis.

And the vial? It's tucked away in a special drawer where Ellen keeps her treasures. "I know exactly what it's for," she says confidently. "It was given to me so I could give it to someone else who needs its hope. And I will . . . when the moment is right."

Even though Ellen didn't "do" anything to activate her gift, it automatically delivered what she needed, when she needed it most. However, as she states, she will "pass on" the gift when the appropriate situation presents itself to her in her lifetime. This is an important component of the Gift of Thanks. After you have received what you need - even if you didn't know you needed it or it came to you in a form you weren't expecting - you are meant to pass it on. Life isn't meant to be something that is hoarded, and there is no end to the bounty of God's grace and his universe. Not only are we gifted from within; we are continually being gifted from without. When we have more than we need, it is time to share so the blessing can be passed on . . . and on . . . and on . . . and on . . . .

Using the Gift of Thanks usually involves taking action of some sort. Although Ellen will have to wait to give the vial away, she lives her gift every day by enjoying her time with her family to the fullest. She no longer takes any "normal" aspect of her life for granted, she says, and delights in what she is able to do in spite of her injured leg.

For other people, thanks is something you do for someone else that would be a blessing to them. That's how Debbie used her gift.

Debbie's story

"I'm a cantorial soloist," Debbie said when she called. "Would you like me to chant at High Holy Day services?"

"We're a tiny congregation," I said. "And after the flood recedes, I don't know if we'll even have a building. It may not be worth your while to come up here."

"No, no - I'd love to come," she said emphatically. "There would be no charge."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "You want to come to Grand Forks for nothing?"

"Yes, I do," Debbie answered confidently. "You see, my family and I narrowly escaped a natural disaster last year, and I want to express my thanks by doing this."

"What happened?"

"Well, it was late - the middle of the night. My six-year-old son was in bed, and so were my husband and I. There had been storms in the area, but we didn't hear any sirens or warnings. Then, all of a sudden, we're awakened by this tremendous noise. It was roaring right by the bay window in our bedroom, and it was so loud that even though I was screaming, no one could hear my voice at all.

"I jumped out of bed and started running toward the door, and yelled for my husband to do the same. He couldn't hear me, but fortunately, he got out of bed. A few seconds later, a tornado ripped into the house, shattering the glass and spraying it right where we had been sleeping."

As I was exclaiming my horror, she continued. "We ran down the hall and got our son, and headed for the stairs. But it was like, 'Where do I go? What do I do?" The tornado was literally chasing us through the house! Wherever we went, it went. We instinctively ran down the stairs, toward the front door. At that point, I figured we were dead. We were surrounded by glass, and there was nowhere else for us to go. We made it to the basement somehow, and crouched in a closet, listening to windows exploding and draperies flapping in the wind. When it was over, we emerged from our hiding place to find the front of the house severely damaged, with rain and wind blowing through all the holes that had once been windows. But we were alive and unhurt."

"Was anybody in your neighborhood hurt?" I asked.

"Fortunately, no," she said. "The tornado took out our house and one other. It didn't hit the rest. But the problem was that our town had no sirens or warning system. One or two more seconds, and we would have been dead. So we lobbied, and now there's a system in place. Hopefully, no other family will ever be in as much jeopardy as we were."

"Wow! That's some story!" I exclaimed. "But you've already done the right thing by working to get the warning system in place. Why would you want to give away your services?"

"It's my way of saying thanks," she answered. "I'm grateful to be alive, and I'm happy to share my gift."

We made the necessary arrangements, and Debbie, her husband, and son all came to Grand Forks for Rosh Ha Shanah, four months later. Her chantings were radiant, beautiful. They soared into the rafters and danced in our hearts. Her singing raised us up at a time when a natural disaster had brought us low. Her presence and her extraordinary voice made us feel that we had been blessed by God, not cursed by nature.

In each of these two stories, the women felt as though they received a blessing, and each either intends to or has already passed it on to others. But there is one final way to use your Gift of Thanks, and that is to give a blessing or be a blessing to someone else without necessarily having "received" one. I use "received" in quotes because life itself is the greatest blessing, so if you're reading this, you know you already have it. The way to do this is to look at something you have created - from a child or a garden to a job well done at work, and praise it. Try admiring the people, things, and experiences you have gathered to you thus far. Bless them with your happiness at their presence in your life. For a few moments each day, be content with what you have. This does not mean that you can't or shouldn't want more out of life; that's what the Gifts are for. But rather than waiting to be blessed when you arrive at the Pearly Gates, you can bring a little bit of heaven to earth every day by blessing what is already yours.

Bless you!

Although there are several ways to access your Gift of Thanks, there are really just two good ways to use it: either to be a blessing to yourself, or to someone else. The first is actually the more important of the two, because if you feel short-changed by life, what you offer to someone else will either be less than what you or they want, or possibly even harmful to them, you, or both. Conversely, if you feel abundantly blessed, you will likely feel peaceful in sharing or giving your blessings to someone else.

As stated earlier, one way to be a blessing to yourself is to bless or praise that which you have already gathered or created in your life. Unfortunately, most of us discount what we have by our dissatisfaction with it. Our tendency is to notice what isn't right about our relationships, our homes, and our jobs - what in our estimation needs fixing or correcting. So here are prayers to help you use your Gift of Thanks to bless your own life as it is and as it could be. Feel free to personalize them in your own religious tradition or in whatever spiritual way you are moved to do so.

This first prayer is for this moment. It will help connect you to whatever or whomever is with you now.

Source of Life,
I come to this moment wide-eyed and ready.
Show me the beauty I have brought into my life.
Help me to appreciate the best of what is right here, right now.
Lift up my heart, so I may delight in this creation
And bless it* by saying with you,
"This* is good."
Thank you, thank you for this rich reward,
And for the peace of satisfaction.

*to bless a relationship or another person, substitute "him" or "her" for "it," and "he" or "she" for "this"

This next prayer is useful for when you are fully satisfied with both your past and present, and are ready for something new and wonderful to enter your life. It does not specify what the "something wonderful" is. This prayer helps you "Let go and let God," as the saying goes. As you can see, it is worded as though the delight has already occurred, for indeed, in God's realm, it already has. Although it feels as though you are saying thanks "in advance," you are actually doing so in anticipation. Expect the best - it's on its way!

Sovereign of the universe,
I come to you now with a peaceful mind and a thankful heart.
For you have delivered me to something more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.
I am overwhelmed with excitement,
Overflowing with joy,
And passionate with delight.
My soul exalts in this new creation,
And every fiber of my being gives you thanks.
May this good be a blessing to me and all those whose lives touch mine.
And may all praise go to you.

If you'd rather live your prayers than say some, here are fun, easy ways for you to be a blessing to someone else. If you decide to do something from this list, do so without expecting a show of gratitude from the person for whom you are doing it. The thanks comes from within, acknowledging that you feel good because you did what you could.

  1. Fill a basket with non-perishable food and place it on the doorstep of a needy family (ask around to see who needs help).
  2. Let a friend cry on your shoulder. Refrain from giving advice or saying, "I told you so."
  3. Encourage a child, or better yet - offer to mentor one.
  4. Deliver a hot meal to a family who has a loved one who is sick at home or in the hospital.
  5. Do the laundry of an elderly person or an invalid - including the ironing.
  6. Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk and driveway, or mow their lawn while they are out of town.
  7. Send money to someone you read about in the local paper who needs help. Do it anonymously.
  8. Introduce two people you know would like each other (not necessarily for romantic reasons).
  9. Refuse to believe the worst about someone.
  10. Show up and offer a helping hand - especially if you are unexpected.
  11. If someone you admire is going through a hard time, send a note of praise, illuminating his/her good qualities. Be specific about the traits you know he/she has that will get him/her past the trouble with flying colors.
  12. Offer to babysit on New Year's Eve, or any other "hard to find a sitter" time. Or offer to do it anytime for any overworked and overwhelmed parents you know. Do it for free.

There are, of course, hundreds of other ideas that could be added to this list, and I hope you do so. Just one final note about what all of these things have in common: they are what you do because you can. The Gift of Thanks originates in the idea that you have already received what you need, and have something to share with others. A blessing is something that is easy to do, and very obvious.

Blessings are what God can do, and so can we. There is no end to the thankful gifts we can exchange between heaven and earth.

Bio: Robin L. Silverman was one of 60,000 evacuees during the Great Flood of 1997 that devastated her town of Grand Forks, North Dakota and its sister city, East Grand Forks, Minnesota. To help herself and others, she went looking for what would help the victims harvest love, not fear, from the event. Eventually, she discovered the ten gifts: inner resources we all have to free ourselves of trouble and create amazing new opportunities. "The Gift of Thanks" is an excerpt from her book, The Ten Gifts: Find the Personal Peace You've Always Wanted from the Ten Gifts You've Always Had. Robin's forthcoming book is Something Wonderful is About to Happen. You can learn more at

The Gift of Thanks | My New Regiment
Children and Their Divine Questions
SPIRIT: A Woman's Journal and Guide to Discovering
and Nurturing Her Spirit . . . Her Soul . . . Her Very Being . .

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