Why I Don’t Believe In The ‘Thank You Note’ (And Why You Should Never Expect to Receive One From Me)

Dear Readership,

I realize that what I am proposing (especially as someone who has lived in the South for most of her life) is rather inflammatory. My stand against the thank you note may be taken personally by those who love to abide by and perpetuate long-standing traditions, of which the thank you note is certainly one. To you, I am sorry. I know you must think of me as the embodiment of abandoned decorum or as someone who is utterly without manners. I am, “what is wrong with the world these days” as some would say, but be that as it may, it does not change my mind.

Let me say too before you are really ready to crucify me, I am not anti-gratitude in the slightest. I think being able to feel and express thankfulness is one of the greatest aspects of humanity. Gratitude is a feeling that strikes you low in the gut and wells up inside of you until it fills your body. When deeply felt, it climbs out of your throat, burns through your arms, shines (and even sometimes pours) from your eyes so that it is seen and heard and known simply because you cannot contain it. Gratitude is knowing that someone has changed your life in some way — saved it or made it better — and you feel overwhelmingly compelled to express that truth. Sometimes, too, gratitude comes mixed with other emotions — humility, joy, awe, excitement, even sometimes shame (like when you’re given forgiveness you know you don’t deserve).

But one emotion that gratitude should never be paired with is resentment. It’s an oxymoron. If I resent having to show you my gratitude, I am not really grateful. And if you insist that my gratitude be shown to you in a certain way (say, in the form of a thank you note) then you are stealing my gratitude from me.

I want it to be said and now be known that I resent–I mean truly from the bottom of my heart–resent having to write thank you notes. I think if everyone was being honest with themselves, most people do. It’s a chore that people have to make themselves sit down and do. Or it’s something that they keep offering up apologies and excuses for having not done yet. I can think of tons of times when I have seen a post or received a text or had someone say, “Sorry I haven’t sent you your thank you note, yet. I’m behind, but I’m working on it.”

Don’t apologize to me for not sending me a piece of mail that was likely written in template form so you could get through it faster and that I will definitely throw away. Just tell me right now that you’re grateful I came to your party. Tell me that you enjoy my company and my friendship — better yet, hug me at the party and tell me then. Or best of all — keep inviting me. Keep texting me and loving me by being present in my life. That is gratitude in action and the only thank you card I ever need or ever plan to send.

“But what about people who expect you to send Thank You’s? What if they are offended if you don’t?” a friend asked me a few weeks ago when I told her I wasn’t planning to send thank you notes after my wedding. “Then I hope they don’t come” I said.

That sounds a little harsh, but to me it is simple. If the only reason you would come to my wedding or give me a gift is because you expect to be formally thanked, I’m asking you now — do not come and do not send a gift. And this applies to all future parties, baby showers, anniversaries, etc. I want to fill my life with gifts that were given to me in love from people who don’t keep a running tally. I don’t want my life cluttered up by fake generosity.

I think the heart of this sentiment may stem from an experience I had in high school. One summer a church that I didn’t even go to raised money for me to be able to attend a Bible camp. My family didn’t ever have the funds to send us away in the summer so this was the first time I had ever gone to camp. I was elated! I couldn’t believe their generosity and was grateful beyond words. I made sure I told the pastor (who was a friend of my mom’s) how thankful I was. That week I had a ton of incredible experiences — I made lots of friends, but one in particular that was such an amazing kindred spirit he and I would continue to be friends for years (and still are). I also heard the Holy Spirit speak for the first time as I was dragged out of my comfort zone in ways I hadn’t known I could be. God’s message for me that week was to live boldly for Him — He called me to dance like David before Him and not care who saw me (something that was very hard for me at the time, but was an important first step in a long journey to liberate me from my crippling social anxiety). It was life changing in all of the ways that Bible camp really should be.

But fast forward a few weeks and I received an unsettling message from the pastor of that church. Sheepishly he implored me to write a thank you letter to his congregation because some of the members who had helped pay for me to attend the camp were upset, angry even, that I had not formally thanked them. I was shocked. I had said thank you. And I was thankful! Enormously. But why were they angry? Because it wasn’t on paper? Because I hadn’t groveled enough? It would be different if they had asked for an update — if they had said they wanted to hear from me about what God had done for me that week. But to demand that I thank them more? My shock became resentment as I penned a letter totally numbed by obligation.

It took me a long time and a lot of prayer to forgive the members of that church for shaming me for my “lack of gratitude.” It took a lot of effort to not let my joy be stolen and to remind myself that the actions of fallible humans don’t represent the heart of a perfect God. God still used that week to work in my life, regardless of the motivations of the people who sent me.

But I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be made small, to be scolded, to be the target of anger and judgment for not writing a thank you note. And since then I have been quite sure that I would not ever waste my time saying thank you’s that I didn’t mean, or force myself to write thank you’s that would make the sentiment disingenuous. People who are angered by this are merely identifying themselves as people I can happily prune from my life.

I guess you could say that this post is my official warning to all of those who are ever invited to future events that I host to not expect a card in the mail from me. Specifically those of you who do attend my wedding, if you find that you can get over my impropriety, I want you to know that I am thankful. If you give me a blender, know that I will be thankful every morning when I make a smoothie for breakfast; I will be thankful for my sheets every time I crawl into bed; I will be thankful for my measuring cups when I bake cookies; and I will be thankful for my dishes at literally every meal. I love the tradition of filling the house of a newly married couple with the things they need from the people they love (I personally have always enjoyed blessing my own friends in that way). And whether or not it is ever said, I know that they are always thankful.

And if you want a thank you — a real and proper thank you — listen for it. Our unspoken thank you echos in all of the trips and concerts and nights out that Bryce and I skipped in order to save money to make our wedding fun for our guests. Our thank you will be there in the delicious food we’ve paid for you to be able to eat and it will be there in the decorations. You’ll hear our thank you in the music, you’ll feel it in the hugs we give you and you’ll likely see it in our eyes and even hear it from our own mouths as we delight in having the people we love share in our joy.

I love to be thankful, it’s my favorite way to live. But not on paper. Not in a uniform stack of identical cards that I will try to race through to get over and done with. That’s simply not what thankfulness means to me.

Until next time,