Some days life can seem so… thankless. We wake up, do what we do, and then we crash into bed. It can feel like the never ending cycle of simply meeting the needs of those around us. This is especially true of working with youth. Add the reality of ministering to kids who come from a city or “unchurched” background and this epidemic seems to multiply.
Yes, we are supposed to be focused on our treasures being in heaven. No, our focus should not be on the “thank you.” However, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when being taken advantage of doesn’t hurt.
One of my favorite examples of this was a canoe trip my husband took. He, three adults and six young boys from the city, took off one Saturday morning for the adventure of a lifetime. Leaving early, my husband and the other guys loaded the canoes. They then drove two hours away to the river.
Being from the city the young men spent most of the day hiding in the bottom of the canoes, petrified a “wild animal was about to attack.” The adults did all the work. Lunches had been packed. After a long day of canoeing the adults did most of the packing up. Stopped for dinner. Drove two hours home. Adults gave up a Saturday for this. Boys rolled off the van without a word. The last boy climbed out of the van and into his home. One of the adults looks at my husband with indigence, “Not one of them said thank you.” My husband simply shrugged, “They never do.”
“Thank You, ” are not words that grace our ears often. No matter how many things we “do” for our students, how much time we spend, or how much of ourselves we pour out. In almost 20 years of ministry I have received exactly 3 cards from students thanking me for anything. I can count the “thank you’s” in my head.
We go home we focus on Christ and in our humanness our feelings are still hurt. When you are a parent you remind your kids to say thank you. In this case you feel like, “Well, they should know better,” or, “This isn’t my child what do I say?”
There are a few things we can do to combat the “thanklessness,” of it all:
1. “Thank You,” is an art.
Truth is when you grow up in any environment where you live as a “survivor” you become singly focused on yourself. At other times that attitude can simply be, “Well, you are my youth leader you are supposed to do this stuff for me.” It could just be the nature of being a kid that you only care about YOU. Start with modeling a thankful attitude. Allow your students to see what it is like to be grateful. However, there are times when simply “showing,” isn’t enough. Don’t be afraid to remind your students when a “thank you,” is warranted. Not because you need to feel good about yourself, but because this is an important life lesson. Thankless youth, can become thankless adults. As Christ changes our heart we become more thankful, but we may need to learn the art of saying it out loud. Teach your students HOW.
2. They are not “just this way.”
Be aware when you give up on expecting your students to be different. The one problem with the “canoe story,” was that my husband had no expectation of a thank you. We should be teaching and waiting. Recognizing who they are and allowing them to be stuck there are two different entities. Expect your students to say thank you. The “how,” can take a lot of repetition. Years as a matter of fact for some.
3. It smarts.
Being “self righteous,” never helped anyone. Avoid pretending like there are not days when the lack of “thank you,” doesn’t get to you. It does. Find accountability during these times. Find people that will pray with you and point you back to Christ. Yet, a pity party helps no one. Simply finding others to wallow in your frustration only breeds greater frustration. Admit to yourself that it hurts. Bring it to the Lord. Find others who will love on you. The truth is that we do need the body to build us up. This is the essence of “loving our neighbor as ourselves.”
4. You don’t have to.
Sometimes we can get in a cycle as youth people. “If I just do this one thing they will finally thank me.” I know that I can feel guilty when I say no. Take a look inside. Why are you doing what you do? Are you hoping that this time they will be grateful? If that is why you do anything then the motives are out of whack and we need to stop and say no.
5. Get over yourself.
Teaching the art of the “thank you,” is a process that doesn’t happen over night. You are going to get your feelings hurt. You will feel like this is a “thankless job.” You will want to quit a million times since Sunday. This is normal. We must remember when we “feel” this way, that it is just a feeling. We must come before the Lord and ask him why we are called to do what we do. We must constantly check our heart on who we are in this for. Is it us? Is it the kids? Then it is time to leave. Is it the Lord? Then we must ask him to fill us up once again. Dying to self is a constant cycle.
The whole “Thank You Art,” is just that, process. We must be in a continued state of teaching and looking to Christ. We must be honest with him on where we are and what we are doing and why we are doing it. The bottom line is that we need to be about our relationship with our Lord first before anything else. Model the Thank You. “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ ” Phillippians 3:8
written by Leneita Fix