by Candice Watters
In our ever-coarsening culture, there seems to be fewer cultural supports for teaching children to live graciously. But Thanksgiving week stands apart. As we set tables heavy with roasted turkeys, buttered rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and pumpkin pies, it is a ready-made opportunity to teach children the value of giving—and responding to—thanks-giving.
No longer is it enough to teach boys and girls to look someone in the eye and say “thank you” when they receive a gift, an act of service, or some small kindness. We must also teach children how to reply graciously when someone thanks them. Without training, they will learn what is fast becoming the accepted response to every expression of gratitude: No problem.
It starts in the grocery store when you thank the guy in the check-out line for bagging your Thanksgiving ingredients, and continues in the crafting store when you pay for the felt, glitter, and glue soon to be turned into harvest decorations and place cards.
“Thank you,” you say with a smile.
“No problem,” the clerk says, without a thought.
After countless such exchanges, I shouldn’t have been surprised when one of our young sons turned to me after I thanked him for completing a small task and said, “No problem.” He was repeating what he’d heard all around him. I winced.
“What does ‘No problem’ mean?” I asked him, gently, wanting to know how this reply was playing out in his young mind. “That I didn’t have to spend a lot of time on it,” he said; “that it wasn’t an inconvenience to me.” As much as I understood his reasoning, his “No problem” sounded harsh, with no sense of “I was glad to help you.”
Columnist Gregg Opelka says (https://www.wsj.com/articles/ive-got-a-problem-no-problem-1506463807) “No problem” is a problem that has gone viral. “‘You’re welcome’ has been replaced,” he says.
This is 2017 and it’s now “No problem” as far as the ear can hear. Why is this trend so troubling? Because “[t]here’s an implicit, albeit unintentional, condescension in the ‘No problem’ comeback. As if to say ‘You’re interrupting my busy life, but I’ll make a little time for you because I’m just that magnanimous.’”
What’s worse, he says, is that:
It’s negative. “You’re welcome,” on the other hand, is the picture of sunny benevolence. More than a mere affirmation (“You are well come!”), it’s an invitation. Where “No problem” hustles you out the back door, “You’re welcome” opens its big, wide, friendly arms and says: “Stay!”
When I feel gratitude for a kindness done to me or for me, and I say with sincerity, “Thank you so much,” what am I to do with a “No problem”? It feels dismissive of my thanksgiving. I feel a small shrinking inside.
About the problem with “No problem,” Albert Mohler ((https://albertmohler.com/2017/09/29/briefing-09-29-17/) ) gives people the benefit of the doubt, saying, “It’s surely fair to say that the vast majority of those who respond with ‘No problem’ rather than ‘You’re welcome’ are not making some kind of intentional statement; they mean no slight nor matter of disrespect.”
But even if people who say ‘No problem’ mean no harm, their words are not benign. “…language really matters,” Mohler says, “and a shift in language that may appear … to be of no consequence at all, upon reflection really does mean something.”
Could it mean we’re learning to accept “No problem” as a satisfactory reply to “Thank you” because we no longer value sacrifice or see the worth of being inconvenienced for the good of another? Could it be further evidence of the breakdown of the “love your neighbor” ethic that used to characterize much of our culture, even if only as a memory of a former heartfelt commitment to Scripture’s golden rule?
The things for which we are most thankful often are a problem for someone. The acts of service and self-sacrifice that elicit our deepest, heartfelt gratitude are not without a cost. It is good and right to give thanks for such labors. Giving thanks is precisely what God asks of us as we approach Him. The Psalmist wrote:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (Psalm 100:4)
God’s invitation is a lavish demonstration of His generosity. Because He is perfectly holy, we cannot enter His presence unaltered. In order for us to be able to approach Him and survive, He had to sacrifice everything:
For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before [God] (Colossians 1:19-22).
If we rightly understand what God’s invitation to us cost Him, how can we have any other response than giving thanks? And how can His response be anything other than “You are welcome”? Through Jesus’ cross, we are welcomed into His courts, His kingdom, even His household (Ephesians 2:19). Every time a Christian says “you’re welcome” to someone who thanks them, it is a small reflection of the generous welcome the heavenly Father extends to His beloved children.
As we gather this week to give thanks for food, shelter, work, family, and many more good gifts, may we not stop there, but teach our children, and exhort those gathered around our tables, to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us in Christ. This is a profound opportunity to remember the depths of God’s grace when He replies to our “thank you” with a glorious, “You are welcome!”