Contributed by Vic Kohring
With Thanksgiving approaching, I've been reflecting on the importance of being thankful, not only to God, but to each other.
Being grateful is a reflection of one's character, which includes thanking people for expressions kindness and generosity. It's also a part of being Christian. In Philippians 2:5, Paul writes that Christians should have a Christ-like attitude and must act with selflessness and humility.
I've always tried to follow this principal. As a legislator, I sent out literally hundreds of cards, notes and letters through the years and made probably thousands of calls, thanking people for their support. During my campaigns for election, I made a point at placing thank you posters on all my large highway signs to let voters know that I appreciated them. The posters began a trend among local politicians that became a common practice until recent years. My biggest expression of gratitude was to stand along the Parks or Glenn Highways greetings motorists with a large, illuminated thank you sign after each election. The Parks/Main Street intersection in downtown Wasilla was my favorite.
Going out before the public after an election was the most difficult because by then I was usually physically and mentally exhausted from months of campaigning. To go out one final time was the hardest, as I wanted to stay home and crash. But it was crucial, as it was important people knew how I sincerely appreciated them and valued their support at the polls. Most politicians grab your vote and run, and once the campaign is over, you seldom hear from them again until the next election season when they're once more pleading for your vote. I was determined to be different.
While in the legislature, my staff and I helped literally thousands of people through the years on a variety of concerns. Interestingly, very few ever said thanks. Seldom a word. But helping was the right thing to do and my main reason for being in office, so I have no regrets. After I left the legislature and was no longer in a position of influence, the vast majority of these people abandoned me. Most notable were my former legislative colleagues, lobbyists and constituents. But it was to be expected.
Thankfulness is a prominent biblical theme. I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says that one should, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” The Gospel of Luke speaks of Jesus healing a group of five lepers, but only one showed gratitude afterward. Chapter 17 says, “When one of them saw that he was healed, he came back. He praised God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.”
There's an important lesson here. When somebody does something to help you, offer a simple and sincere, “Thank you.” One year while waving at cars the day after the November 1998 election at the intersection of Parks and Main with a big thank you sign lit by a floodlight off a generator in below zero weather, a local attorney and Christian man parked his car and walked up to me. I was a little nervous seeing a stranger walking briskly toward me. But he explained that my presence reminded him of the story of the five lepers healed by Jesus. He was impressed that I was the only politician to take time after the election to say thanks to the voting public, the same as the healed leper he said.
To be compared with the story in Luke was extra special and one of the highlights of my years in office. Being thankful is part of being humble, which unfortunately is a rare trait among politicians. Matthew 23:12 says that, “…he that humbles himself shall be exalted,” and James 4:10, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up.”
When a person expresses gratitude, it changes their focus from being selfish and self-centered. The book of Timothy describes how during the last days of this world, there will be a lack of thankfulness among people, and that the wicked will be ungrateful. Additionally, research shows that those who regularly practice gratitude, including expressions of kindness and compassion toward others, are more positive, happier, healthier and have a greater sense of well-being.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that to be content in life, you should, “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously.” We should all live by these words.