I just finished reading the book I Am Malala : The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. You may be thinking, "How are you just now reading this book? What were you doing in 2013 when we all read it?"The answer is pretty much always the same. I was having a baby. That's what I've been doing for like the last 10 years.
Quick disclaimer: I'm still processing the book, so this won’t be a comprehensive book recommendation. It also won’t be a in depth discussion about the Muslim faith or a political post in any way. If you read this and feel I’m doing any of those things, know it’s unintentional.
Back to it. If you haven’t read this book, it’s the beautiful and heartbreaking account of Malala Yousafzai who is fighting for education for girls in Taliban controlled Pakistan. She and her family are Muslim, like most Pakistanis, but reading this account reminds me that you and I are not so different from people in this culture. We have the same desires and the same sins. The people in her story are in dire circumstances and the good and bad in people are much more defined in these situations.
You know I love to recommend books, and this one is definitely an important read, but that’s not my purpose today. Malala said something that really stood out to me. In chapter 6, she talks about how the Pashtuns (her ethnic group) rarely say thank you. A statement like that stopped me in my tracks. She goes on to explain that although customs like hospitality are non-negotiable, saying thank you is tricky.
“We are a people of many sayings. One is 'The stone of Pashto does not rust in water,' which means we neither forget nor forgive. That's also why we rarely say thank you, manana, because we believe a Pashtun will never forget a good deed and is bound to reciprocate at some point, just as he will a bad one. Kindness can only be repaid with kindness. It can't be repaid with expressions like 'thank you’.” -Malala Yousafzai
As Americans, we say thank you all the time. When we were children, we were taught to send thank you notes. We remind our kids to say thank you a hundred times a day. In fact, we even use thank you to say what not to do. For instance: "Thank You for Not Smoking". Now, that's either polite or sort of passive aggressive. However, much like Malala, we say thank you, but we still feel we have to repay. Even when it’s not required, we feel indebted to others who have shown us kindness.
You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that? Isn’t it good to ‘repay kindness with kindness' as Malala says?” I think it is. It’s natural to want to give back when someone is kind. And passing kindness along (or paying it forward) is one of the best trends to come out of our time. Kindness should shape us and ultimately make us better.
Here’s where we run into problems with the “indebted to others” thinking. If you feel indebted to someone, that’s a bad feeling. It comes from a place of guilt, not actual thankfulness. In that case, the kindness is wasted because instead of feeling loved, you felt guilty.
We do this because people love Imperfectly. In fact, I'll say there are two types of kindness-givers.
1. People who extend kindness wanting nothing in return.
2. People who keep track of kind things they've done for you so they can use them as a bargaining chip later. I hope most of your friends are in the first group, but what sometimes happens is a friend is in group one, but we assume they're in group two. We paint them with the "indebted brush" even though their motives are pure.
Navigating this with friends is tough, but the worst thing we can do is paint our Heavenly Father with the same brush. Unlike people, He loves perfectly. And His grace can never be earned or repaid. Let me say that again because it’s so important. His grace can never be earned or repaid.
So back to Malala. Though we say thank you all the time in our culture, we often operate under the same mindset as her people. We don’t feel peace in our soul until we repay the kindness. Do not fall into that trap with God! You will never feel peace trying to repay Him. It’s impossible. Instead, say thank you.
Say it all the time. Say it when you go outside and when you see children laugh and when you hear music. Say it when things are hard and when everything goes your way. Say it in church and at work and at home. Say thank you for waking up alive and healthy and on the way to the doctor. Say thank you when you open your Bible and read a love letter from the creator of the universe. Repaying is not an option, but being thankful is.
If we operate from a place of thankfulness, everything is better. In fact, that peace we are all searching for is possible in thankfulness.
P.S. Read the book. I said I wasn't going to spend time recommending it, but I lied. Just read it. The picture above and the title are links to buy it on Amazon. If you've read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Comment below.