by Pastor Doug Kings

According to the medieval German theologian and mystic, Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.” It’s a remarkable notion. Think of all the prayers you have said over the years, privately or in public worship. While prayers of thanks were certainly among them, there were likely a lot of other topics. There’s so much to be said! But according to Eckhart, saying “thank you” would have been enough.

We say “thanks” in response to being given something: a gift, a service, a complement, an expression of appreciation, etc. And that’s where the problem of thankfulness starts. To be given something is to acknowledge our lack or our need. It implies an inequality between us and the giver which is often felt as a blow to our self-esteem.

Our reaction is often to try to restore the balance. Hence the Christmas season joke, “Oh no! The Smiths got us a present. Now we have to find something to give them!” Gift giving within groups can become incredibly complicated: families, workplaces, social clubs, etc. Often a financial limit is set to keep the presents “equal” and avoid competition or one upmanship. (And this has what to do with Christmas?)

Modern culture has glorified the notion of hard work leading to accomplishment, achievement, “making it”, and “earning our way.” Lacking something can easily imply incompetence, laziness or getting something that we don’t deserve. As emotional baggage, all that can make “thank you” some of the hardest words for us to say.

Eckhart elevates saying “thank you”, however, because he understands that need is, in fact, the human condition. Echoing him, Luther on his death bed is supposed to have said, “We are all beggars. It is true.” This was, of course, a cruder way of reiterating Luther’s central teaching, that everyone lives by grace. Life itself is ultimately a gift, so say “thank you.”

In our current discussion book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says in a section called “Abundance,” that we are often hindered in life by our false sense of lack, our fear that we are inherently inadequate in some fundamental way. Thus, we may choke on saying thanks because it triggers an inner anxiety about forever lacking what others seem to have. We are stingy because we feel we have so little, certainly not enough to share with others. But this is a misunderstanding, according to Tolle, which only hurts ourselves.

If the thought of lack—whether it be money, recognition, or love—has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance….

You cannot receive what you don’t give. Outflow determines inflow. Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you already have, but unless you allow it to flow out, you won’t even know that you have it. This includes abundance. The law that outflow determines inflow is expressed by Jesus in this powerful image: “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.”

How do we come to believe in our “abundance”? Tolle suggests we first develop a new appreciation for the world around us. Go outside and feel the sun’s warmth on your face, listen to a bird’s song, smell a flower’s bloom. Life and the world around us are God’s first gift.

Then follow best-selling author Anne Lamott’s advice (quoted in a Richard Rohr Daily Meditation) and discover how our small kindnesses can transform the world.

How can something so simple be so profound: letting others go first, in traffic or in line at Starbucks, and even if no one cares or notices? Because for the most part, people won’t care—they’re late, they haven’t heard back from their new boyfriend, or they’re fixated on the stock market. And they won’t notice that you let them go ahead of you. They take it as their due.

But you’ll know. And it can change your whole day, which could be a way to change your whole life. There really is only today, although luckily that is also the eternal now. And maybe one person in the car in the lane next to you or in line at the bank or at your kid’s baseball game will notice your casual generosity and will be touched, lifted, encouraged—in other words, slightly changed for the better—and later will let someone else go first. And this will be quantum.

The movement of grace toward gratitude brings us from the package of self-obsessed madness to a spiritual awakening. Gratitude is peace.

What do we have to give? Time, concern, patience. Listening when it’s not convenient. Holding a hand, giving a hug, sitting in silence with another’s pain, confusion, or grief. Our own self is the greatest gift we can give. But the health adage is true here as well: use it or lose it. Give your life away and it will multiply; hang on to it and it will waste away. As Jesus says in Mark 4:

“The measure you give will be the measure you get, and it will be added to you. For to those who have, more will be given, and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

We have abundance the world often does not recognize and for that reason we often don’t recognize it either. Gratitude, generosity, and thanksgiving open our eyes and our hearts to how much we have, simply by being alive. “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.” To live by such a prayer is to wake up, to come fully alive, or as Jesus tells Nicodemus, to be reborn.

Blessings in your life and ministry.