"“David, my son—is that you?” Saul asked. Then he started crying and said: David, you're a better person than I am. You treated me with kindness, even though i've been cruel to you. You've told me how you were kind enough not to kill me when the Lord gave you the chance. If you really were my enemy, you wouldn't have let me leave here alive. I pray that the Lord will give you a big reward for what you did today. I realize now that you will be the next king, and a powerful king at that." - 1 Samuel 24:16-20
Thirty years ago, I went to a seminar on gratitude. Paired off, we took turns complimenting each other and were only allowed to respond, “thank you.” At the end of the hour, I found myself exhausted, frustrated that something so simple as saying two words was difficult to do. My only solace was that everyone around me was feeling the same way.
My inclination was and still is to downplay kind words. Even if I remember that seminar and say thank you, I struggle to not add other clarifications like the fact that it was easy or mentioning other people that should be thanked as well. Intellectually I realize that my downplaying the kindness of others is insulting, but I do it anyway.
Why is it so hard to show genuine gratitude? It’s so much easier for me to be the one giving to someone else than receiving. I love finding and giving gifts during special occasions but struggle to know how to respond when I open a gift myself. If someone in the world needs help, I love providing it, but can get frustrated and sometimes refuse assistance when it’s me in need.
In the scripture passage, King Saul’s life had just been spared by David, the man he’d been trying to kill. Not only did David spare Saul’s life but professed his love and allegiance to the King. As king, Saul was used to sparing other people’s lives, not the other way around. You can hear him struggling to know what to say. Sadly, this moment of gratitude was short lived, and Saul reverted to hunting down David once this story was over. This marks the last time these two friends were able to reconcile.
Is it the hubris of King Saul that keeps me from accepting kindness from others? Perhaps. I also think about the role models in my life. I’m drawn to and study people who help others. The Gospels are great at showing Jesus serving his people, but it’s harder for me to find examples of Him being gracious when people are kind or helping Him. As a result, I know how I should act when others are in need but get flustered when it’s the other way around.
The more I dig, the more I think it comes down to a struggle to accept things I don’t feel I’ve earned. I didn’t earn that compliment, that present, or that assistance. Most frustrating, I never earned God’s love and grace. It’s the most challenging part of my Christian life, simply accepting God’s love for me.
This will be a challenge for the rest of my life. Today, for practice, I’m going to change my normal style of prayer, and I invite you to do the same. For just one day I’m not going to pray for the needs of others or confession of my sins. I’m just going to do the thing I learned so many years ago in the hope that it will help me get closer to genuinely accepting the gracious love of God. A prayer of just two words, repeated over and over again. “Thank you.”