The other day, I was working with a student. We were writing thank-you notes for a field trip. We had visited Agecroft Manor, in Richmond. This student was having a difficult time. She had completely dug her heels in - full stop - claiming the trip had been a boring waste of time. She tore a page out of her binder to write on.
"Oh," I explained, "your letter needs to be on a sheet that isn't ripped."
She put a title at the top of the next sheet.
"But," I explained, "this is a letter. Letters don't have titles. You need the date, and you need your greeting."
I used the torn paper to write some notes. "Let's talk about what you can write."
Student: It was a boring waste of time.
Me: OK, no, you can't write that. This is a thank-you note. Wasn't there anything that you liked?
Student: I thought it was going to be fun. There wasn't any music. We just walked around. It was boring.
Me: You get out of something what you put into it. If you put boring in, then you get boring out. It seems to me that you put the boring in. You can add the music part as a suggestion at the end. It's a good idea. Let's start with the first sentence - Thank you for being our guide.
Student: Ok, I can say that.
She wrote out the thank you and added but it was very boring.
Me: You kept the boring part - this is a thank you. No one wants to hear that they are boring. Did you like it when I told you that you put boring into your trip? Didn't anything surprise you? Do you remember what the house was before it was moved to Richmond?
Student: It was a manor.
Me: Yes, it was a manor, but what did the people DO in the manor? What kind of manor was it?
Student: I don't know what they did. They lived. It was an English manor.
Me: Yes, it was built in England first. What did the people in the manor do for money? What was their job?
Student: They had sheep. It was a farm.
Me: Yes, it was a farm. Did it look like a farmhouse to you?
Me: You can write that. I was surprised that the manor had once been a farmhouse.
She wrote I couldn't believe the house had EVER been a farmhouse because it was so boring.
Me: Please take the boring part out.
Student: It was boring. I thought it was going to be fun. There wasn't any music. We just walked around. I'm not going to write that it was all fun and stuff. It wasn't. No one ever listens to me.
Me: I'm not saying you have to write that it was all fun and stuff. But, boring? This is a thank you note. We just have to sort through what you're going to say. A thank-you note is like a gift to the docent. A gift makes people feel good. You want the docent to feel good when she reads your letter. Do you like to get gifts?
Student: I never get any gifts.
Me: Not even at Christmas, or your birthday?
Student: Well, I do at Christmas.
Me: So imagine your gifts at Christmas. You see them all wrapped up and you really want to open them. You're excited, right?
Me: Now imagine opening one of your gifts, the one with the prettiest wrapping, the one you've been waiting for. You open it and instead of a present, you get a note that says you're boring. The docent is going to get this letter. She's going to be excited about opening it. Like you at Christmas. You can give a real gift, or you can give this. A real gift means that you do your very best. It's not a gift unless you give it. You're allowed to pick and choose from the field trip. Write the parts that will make the docent feel good about leading your tour. This letter is about her; it's not all about you - like a gift. Give her your best work. Wouldn't you rather give that?
The student erased the part about the farmhouse being boring. In fact, we managed to eke out two more sentences before she was finished - one of them was a suggestion to include music in future tours...
Honestly, I don't think she ever really understood the gift thing. I think she just wanted to be done, and she knew I wasn't going to leave her alone until she did it in an acceptable way.
But, I got the gift thing. God has given us more gifts than we can name, the first and foremost, his Son, Jesus, who was perfect. In turn, don't we want to give back - somehow? We are the thank you's. Our very lives - our actions, our words, our thoughts - they are our gifts to Him. We can pick and choose these actions and words; we can even direct our thoughts. I want to give him my best - otherwise it isn't a gift. That's a good reason to choose joy.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:10-11