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Too Little, Too Late?


In an effort to stay out of the cold weather, I busied myself with indoor tasks that have long been ignored. Foremost among them was organizing my home office that long ago became so overwhelmed with clutter that I moved my computer to another room and began new stacks in a temporary workspace. The cold weather and my husband’s not so subtle hints that he would like me to move my flotsam and jetsam back to my office promped my resolve to tackle the mess.

It took two full days to dig through all the paperwork stacked on shelves, stuffed in drawers, filling baskets and boxes and piled in mounds on the floor. While it wasn’t pleasant, it was like a trip down memory lane as I sorted through pieces of my life tossed aside in a rush to get on to the next thing. Old invitations, pictures, receipts, letters, and - oh no! I didn’t. I did. There in the bottom of a gift bag were all of the thank you notes I had written to dear friends and aqauinences alike who had show such kindness on the occasion of my father’s death – 18 months ago! I wrote them but didn’t mail them.

Now what? Is there an expiration on sending thank you notes. Can I send them more than a year late? How do I make up for that gross oversight? The more I thought about it the more I realized I know nothing about thank you note etiquette. For instance, if I express thanks to a someone in person, is a written thank you also required? Does it have to be handwritten? Can it be sent via email? With full likihood this will not be the first of my faux paus, I knew I should find the answers.

An internet search of "thank you notes" found 34 million enteries to guide me. I was astounded and overwhelmed, so I only scanned the first 250 records. Here are my most relevant findings.

All of the experts seem to agree that it is always the right time to send written notes of appreciation. That's bad news for those who were hoping for some kind of exception. Not even verbal thanks supersede the carefully penned note. Apparently, a 50 cent stamp on a thank you card really is worth a 1000 words. But don't think it's that easy. There are some restrictions. I quote, "Never, never, never, send a preprinted thank you card without a personal note.” Handwritten some how implies sincerity.

No occasion is exempt, and neither is any person. One expert said, "As soon as a child can manipulate a crayon she can participate in thanking people." So get that kid out of the high chair and get them practicing the alphabet. Just don't tell the other expert who says that proper notes are always written in blue or black ink, not Parrot Pink Crayola.

Finally, I was able find guidance about my late notes. Disagreement arises when it comes to time limits on getting thank you cards mailed. While most agree acts of kindness, birthday gifts, and the like should be acknowledged within days newlyweds can have up to a year. As for funeral thank you notes, there seems to be no firm timeline. Most experts say to send the notes “as soon as you feel up to it.” Indeed, saying goodbye to my dad was a great loss; I’m just not sure I could convince anyone I haven’t been up to it for more than 18 months. So, I am left with the same question. Do I send them or do I not?

Before making my decision I decided to consult one more expert source – the Bible. God’s Word has much to say about offering thanks to God, but I found no instruction on how or when to thank one another. It does however, have a model when one has been generous toward another.

“…Through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” 2 Corinthians 9:13-14

And there I found my answer. We had followed etiquette afterall. Every act of kindness toward us during that difficult time did indeed result in our thanksgiving to God for each person’s generosity. We did praise God together for the precious acts of obedience of love toward us, surely inspired by the faith of our friends. In our prayers of thanks to God, our hearts did go out to them because of God’s grace working in them. And all of that happened without a stamp.

Then I knew what I needed to do. I will mail my belated thanks because we should never miss an opportunity to tell someone that their generosity inspired thanks and praise to God Himself. (Just don’t hold me to a timeline.)

IS THERE SOMEONE YOU NEED TO THANK BECAUSE OF THEIR GRACIOUSNESS TOWARD YOU? HAVE YOU EXPRESSED GRATITUDE TO THE FATHER FOR THE LOVE HE INSPIRES IN HIS PEOPLE TO MINISTER TO YOU IN YOUR NEED? IT'S NEVER TOO LATE.