Thanking People for Their Help — Vaneetha Risner

(Photo: Unsplash)

Have you ever done something special for someone in need, and then felt unappreciated at their lack of response? Or has someone done something kind and thoughtful for you when you were struggling, but you never adequately thanked them because you were overwhelmed, too busy or just forgot?

One of my passions in ministry is equipping people to help their hurting friends. The Lord ministers to us through his body and we have the privilege of being his hands and feet as we reach out to others. This honors God, who equips us to comfort and serve one another with the comfort and strength he provides (1 Peter 4:10-11; 2 Cor 1:4). While I have been the recipient of that comfort and service countless times, I often forget that God calls me to respond to people’s kindness. First, to thank God for the ways he’s prompted and gifted people to help me. But also to thank them for their thoughtfulness and sacrifice.  

Sometimes saying thank you is difficult

Saying thank you seems simple, but it can feel like another burden when we are struggling or grieving. After my son Paul died, we were getting meals three or four times a week and it was so hard to write thank you notes. I occasionally remember not even wanting to get a meal because the burden of writing a thank you was almost too much for me. I was too overwhelmed to thank people for anything.

Sometimes I didn’t say thank you because what I received wasn’t that helpful. Spaghetti and bagged salad for the third day in a row. A candle with a fragrance that I didn’t like. Organizing my kitchen and putting things in new places.

Why thanking people is important

Yet as receivers of gifts and grace, it’s important to let people know that we appreciate their efforts. It’s harder for others to keep serving us if we aren’t grateful. When we don’t say anything, or say a cursory “thanks,” we are tacitly communicating that we didn’t like or want what they did.

In Luke 17:11-19, we read that Jesus healed ten lepers yet only one returned to thank him. Perhaps the other nine were too busy, excited to return to the life they once had. Perhaps they were overwhelmed and thanking Jesus required going out of their way. Perhaps they just forgot. Nonetheless, Jesus noticed and remarked that only one had returned to praise God for what he had done.

A template for how to say thank you

Acknowledging and thanking someone doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. But it is usually more than just saying, “Thanks for the help, gift card, package etc. I appreciate it.” Real gratitude is noticing what the person did. The sacrifice it might have involved. What it meant to you and why.

I wish I hadn’t over-thought how to say thank you over the years, waiting to write the perfect note. The longer I waited, the more it felt daunting. So I didn’t do it. I’m grateful for technology because thanking someone for their thoughtfulness today can just involve sending a text or even a voice memo. It takes less than 5 minutes to write. While it’s simple, it does take intentionality. The hardest part is figuring out what to say. Here’s what I try to do:  

First, I usually pray that the Lord would bring what they did to mind, help me with the words, and give me a spirit of gratitude.

Next, I try to say something like this in a note, text, or message:

1.    Thank you so much for the _________. Specifically list what they did.

  • If it was showing up or spending time talking to us— thank them for their time.

  • If it’s physical help — list all they did.

  • If it was a meal — generally list what they brought or sent.

  • If it was a gift card or gift or package — list what you received. Or what you plan to get.

 2.    My favorite thing was ____________. Say what you particularly appreciated. And why or how you’ll use it. The more detailed, the better.

3.    I know _______ took a lot of time and thought. And that meant a lot as well. It was especially helpful because _________. Acknowledge the sacrifice the person made in giving it to you. Let them know what was most helpful.

If you have slaved for hours to make a meal for someone, sacrificing time with your family, and whipping up your best recipe and they don’t acknowledge it, or simply say “thanks for dinner,” you might feel disappointed. Did they even like it? Was it helpful or did they wish you hadn’t brought it?

But you’d have a very different feeling if they said:

“Thank you so much for dinner last night. The meatloaf, sides and dessert were delicious and just what we needed. After a long day, it was wonderful to have a home-cooked meal brought to our house. The kids even had seconds! My favorite was the homemade mashed potatoes. I know that this was a big sacrifice for you and your family, and we so appreciate it.”

If you didn’t get your favorite meal or ideal gift, think about what you did appreciate and honestly thank them for that! You could emphasize their thoughtfulness and effort.

A few ideas of what to say for other gifts:

  • I love getting gift cards, especially because I can use them anytime. I’m planning on using this to buy a few kitchen essentials that I have my eye on. Thank you so much for thinking about me and getting me a thoughtful gift. I can’t wait to go shopping!

  • Thank you so much for the long coffee we had yesterday. It was so helpful to process with someone. I know you probably have a million other things to do but you were so gracious in spending time with me. It means more than you know.

  • Watching the kids this afternoon was an incredible gift. They all came home saying how much fun they had at your house. I so needed a break, and it was such a help that you kept them for a few hours. I ran errands and had a few needed minutes to myself. I’m sure there were lots of other things you could have done this afternoon, and I so appreciate the sacrifice you made for me. It really made a difference. Thank you so much!

Don’t put it off!

While handwritten thank you notes are wonderful, when you’re struggling, I think a text is perfectly fine. I realize that sometimes even writing a text may feel overwhelming, but once you’re in the habit of sending it right after you receive something, it gets easier. So if you’re reading this article and remember things that you haven’t fully thanked someone for, consider stopping right now and sending them a text, acknowledging how they helped you. I promise it will still be appreciated. It’s never too late to say thank you.

If you are overwhelmed by what’s happening in your life, this article may feel like another weight on your shoulders. That’s not at all my intention. I’m praying that this will be helpful. Don’t overthink what you are writing and ask the Lord for wisdom as you craft your text or note. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Your friends will appreciate your taking the time to thank them, and God will be honored in the process.

Used with permission of the author, Vaneetha Risner.

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