Tuesday, June 09, 2015
A seminary friend reached out to me last week with a question. "You seem to have been able to develop many mentors in life. How do you do it?"
It's a question I've never pondered before, and I did not have an immediate answer. While I can name the people who have mentored me in the past, and the individuals who I perceive as mentors today, I'm not sure how they came into my life. As I imagined the individuals from whom I've learned, the people who have journeyed alongside of me in important ways, one thread rose to the top, however. Gratitude - the power of saying thanks. With this awareness, I started to answer her question.
"I'm fully aware of what I don't know. I love being with people who are smarter or more gifted than me. And when they share part of their knowledge with me, I seek to always say thanks."
When I graduated from seminary, I wrote the dean a multi-page letter telling him all the ways Duke Divinity School had shaped and formed me, expressing gratitude for each gift. That letter was mentioned as one of the reasons I was invited to come back and join the staff a year later.
When I've had an influential class, I have sought to write the professor to name the ways her teaching made more of me before asking more questions.
When a bishop took time to get to know my story and why I was excited about being in downtown DC, I was quick to say thanks and ask more questions.
When another professor allowed me to journey to his homeland not once but twice in order to see the pain and hope of his ministry, I did everything I could to say thanks, to affirm his ministry, and to keep asking questions.
And I sometimes wonder if our expressing gratitude in tangible ways is a lost discipline.
We are in the process of filling a position on our staff at the church and have interviewed multiple people over the phone and in person. The professor who taught Business Communications at my college told us the importance of showing up the next day with a letter in which you sought to say thanks, name the ways your gifts are a perfect match for the position, and let people know how much you want the job. We delivered those notes - on fancy paper that required an extra trip to Staples. Yet in this round of filling a position, out of all the people we have spoken with, only one has taken time to express gratitude -- through an email. I've been amazed at how little we do to both express gratitude and sell ourselves - allowing our light to shine once more.
I'm also amazed at the power of a thank you note. I have dozens of them in a file labeled "happy folder" in my office. They are notes that remind me who I am, what roles I've played, and affirm my call to ministry.
Do we not all need these reminders?
Are we not all led to offer more of ourselves to those who have the capacity to remind us who we are and what we do well? Are we not more inclined to invest in their lives in a similar way that makes more of them (and us) in the process?
I'm off to write some thank you notes.
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18.