Sharing a Legacy of Gratitude
How and Why to Write a Thank-You Note that Lasts Forever
We’ve talked about leaving spiritual (non-material) legacies here before; this month I invite you to consider writing a “thank-you note” or a “legacy letter of gratitude” as a lasting gift to someone. I’d love to hear from you, so if you’re willing, please share your thoughts on one or both of the following questions in the comments or by hitting reply if you received this by email:
How do you feel about writing thank-you notes?
How does a good thank-you note make you feel?
Paid subscribers receive a free template for the exercise below. Scroll all the way down to get yours.
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Remembering Our Gratitude
As we enter the ninth month with our first grandchild and anticipate the birth of the second and third any day now, I find myself remembering my days as a mother of young children. Married to an orthopedic resident who often worked eighty-hour weeks, I needed help desperately, and my mother kicked it into high gear. Though she owned her own business and could hardly afford time away, she took off every Thursday afternoon and picked up our son for “Dede time,” beginning when he was six-months-old. She bought strollers and swings and special baby stuff we couldn’t afford on a resident’s salary. And as more and more children arrived, she continued to help, gamely taking on two and then three and eventually all four of them to give my husband and me some much-needed time alone. How grateful I am for her help. Now that she is gone, I wonder if I thanked her often enough. I have evidence that I thanked her—she left a bin full of notes and cards I had written over the years, but now that I am a grandmother, I find myself with a new level of admiration I’d love to express.
Because our days are numbered, we want to be intentional about expressing our gratitude to people for the ways they have been carriers of God’s grace in our stories. Before we consider how to write our thank-you notes or letters of gratitude, let’s explore the basis for our gratitude.
“Charis leads to eucharistia.”
Charis is the Greek word for grace. Eucharistia is the Greek word for gratitude. Theologian Karl Barth wrote, “Charis always demands the answer eucharistia…Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, quoted in Eugene Peterson, Living the Message, 58).
In other words, a Christian, a recipient of life-changing grace, a formerly “dead man walking” who is now not only alive but freed in the freedom for which Christ set us free (see Ephesians 2:1; Galatians 5:1), cannot keep from dancing in the rhythm of gratitude. Gratitude is the core of worship: “Thank you, God. Thank you, friend, for showing me the goodness of God. Thank you, blue and pink and purple cotton candy sky for pointing me to the glory of God.” Because grace is the essence of our lives as Christians, it follows that we would be people of gratitude who frequently express thanks intentionally.
One way to leave a legacy of gratitude is to set aside a focused time to write or record our gratitude so people can revisit it when we’re no longer here to voice it.
Writing a Legacy Thank-You Note
We can call our note a “thank-you note” or a “legacy letter of gratitude.” Choose the name that intimidates you the least because you’ll be more likely to complete the task. The goal is to give a lasting gift to the recipient. (Note: If you’re unable to write, consider recording with your phone. Most phones have a recording app these days. If you don’t know how to work the recording app, ask a younger friend or grandchild to help you. You could choose to do an audio or video recording.)
To write your note or letter, try breaking it down into four fifteen-minute sessions. If you have more time and your ideas are flowing, keep going. If not, just keep scheduling your fifteen-minute sessions on your calendar to make sure you complete your note.
1. Session 1: Brainstorm.
Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Make a list of all the people you’d like to thank and list as many things you are thankful for as possible. See the suggested audiences below if you’re stuck:
one or both of your parents: ways God has blessed you, taught you, grown you, shown you…something through them…
your children or your friends: ways you see the likeness of Christ in them, ways they have loved you, ways they have redeemed you…
someone who has taught you something, who has passed on something to you…
God: ways he has rescued you, redeemed you, shown you his grace, healed you, loved you…
2. Session 2: Write rough and fast.
Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Choose one of the recipients above, and write your letter. Don’t worry about grammar or how it sounds at this point. Just try to get your main thoughts down. To help you be specific, consider some of the following questions:
• Describe the senses: What did you hear, taste, feel, see, smell, etc.?
Were there particular places involved? (Your grandmother’s dining table set beautifully with silver and roses; your friend’s hunting cabin deep in the woods, etc.)
What happened? Was there a conflict? Was there a resolution?
What gift or grace did you experience?
What did you or do you see about God through the person or gift?
3. Session 3: Finish.
If you haven’t finished your note, set a timer for fifteen minutes and finish.
4. Session 4: Edit and Rewrite.
Set a timer for fifteen minutes and edit your note or letter, rewriting it to make it say what you want it to say, to sound how you want it to sound. Again, don’t be overly concerned about grammar or spelling: the recipient will be thrilled to receive this gift and won’t be concerned about these things.
5. Bonus Session 5: Process.
Set a timer for five minutes and write about how writing the letter affected you.
What did you feel as you wrote?
Did you see anything new about yourself, about God, or about others as you wrote?
Did any new hopes come as a result of the writing?
Also, I’d love to hear the answers to any of these questions, so please share in the comments if you’d like.
6. Share your letter.
Mail it to the recipient.
Read it at Thanksgiving dinner.
Put it in a collection of legacy notes, letters or stories to be given after your death.
Dear friends, I pray this exercise blesses you and blesses those you love. I promise, you will never regret expressing taking the time to express your gratitude.