"Thank You" vs. Being Thankful

I recently got an interesting question from one of our supporting churches, and I thought I’d share it (and my answer, both edited just a bit) here on the blog.

The missions pastor wrote,
“A while back I had the opportunity to share, during a “Moment for Missions” with our church, some information that I read on your web site. One of the things I shared was about the Palawano culture not saying “Thank you,” when receiving gifts. A number of people would like to know:

1. How did you get them to express “thank you” to God for their salvation?

2. Would this aspect of their culture tend to lead them into doing works to say thank you to God for their salvation, leading to a sense of working for their salvation?”

Here’s my answer:

That’s an excellent question!! Tell people I appreciate their listening to your reading from the site, and their actually thinking about it enough to ask good questions… wow! That makes putting up the site worthwhile.

The main thing to keep in mind here is the difference between saying the words “Thank you,” and being thankFUL, between a social convention and showing real gratitude.
Traditionally, in the Palawano culture, saying the words “thank you” is not part of their culture. But they do, in fact, feel and express gratitude… both in word and deed. However, they use other words, and, more importantly, they allow for some delay. For them, accepting a gift and immediately expressing appreciation (especially using the borrowed Tagalog word, “Salamat,”) means very little; in fact the implication is “my thank-you is all you get; we’re even now.” And of course that is not the attitude we would want them to have towards God.
And as far as acknowledging the gift verbally in other ways (saying “it is good” etc., but not using the word “Thank you,” or by reciprocating by giving a gift in return, they allow for some delay; this is also important. To immediate give a gift back in return, in their culture, looks like you are simply “paying for” the original gift with one of your own. They think it actually shows greater thankfulness and a desire to appreciate the relationship, if the recipient waits, and then gives a gift at a later, but not-too-distant time, making it seem more spontaneous and voluntary, and not something done out of obligation. So actually, delaying the “thank you,” rather than showing ingratitude, demonstrates a grateful heart, a desire for ongoing relationship, and a sense of not simply “paying the giver back” for their original gift.

Of course, there is ALWAYS a human tendency for religious works… whether to try and earn salvation, or to please God and “earn points” once we’re saved. We just don’t get it, do we?! Sometimes it’s very overt as in works-based cults, sometimes quite subtle… but almost always there, and in any culture, even creeping into the evangelical church.

So back to your question. In the Palawano situation, there are two keys…

The main one is attitude. A Palawano can be grateful and SHOW this in word and deed (with or without saying “thank you.” Of course, even Palawanos can “do things” seemingly out of gratitude, but in reality they are trying to “earn” something in return. So “works” can be done for wrong motives (so even “good” works aren’t so good), or they can be done out of true gratitude and the desire to simply please the Lord because we love Him (so good works are truly “good”!)

The second thing to remember is that culture and language change. The Palawanos have borrowed the Tagalog word “salamat” (which supposedly means “thank you,” but it comes from the Semitic languages shalom, and by the time to got to Indonesia/Malaysia/Philippines, it means something more like “good/nice” and the idea is that if I say “salamat” to you, I’m acknowledging either that the gift is nice, or that you are nice, which is not unlike the Palawano way of expressing gratitude by saying “it is good” in their own language. Again, depending on the motive, saying “salamat” can be good or less so. Anyway, the “no-thank you” aspect of their culture is the true, traditional way. Gratitude is shown, but not so much in the word but in deed (not a bad thing… we say “thank you” often, when we are anything but truly grateful, don’t we?) So anyway, the church now uses the borrowed Tagalog word to express “thankfulness” to God. They also have a Palawano word which means “to feel grateful” and they’ve always used that.

And also, the idea of not saying “thank you” immediately applies more to small, everyday gifts between peers (friends and neighbors.) Receiving a major gift, especially from someone of higher status puts the recipient in their debt, and they do say “thank you” and fawn over the giver. That may seem good… showing humility and gratitude, but there is often an element of groveling, or going on and on to butter up the giver to do more for you… and of course, this is not how we want people to relate to God.

So the bottom line is… Culture and issues like is can create a very complex situation and we must be too quick to jump to conclusions or to try to change people’s behavior, when it is their heart that matters most. I was never overly concerned if they didn’t SAY “thank you” (potentially mere words) as long as they demonstrated thankfulness in action and/or words. And by the same token, I’m not necessarily fully satisfied just to hear they say “salamat,” unless I see evidence that the word comes from a heart truly thankful.

So… let me know if people have any other comments of questions… this could be a great dialogue! I might post all this here in my next blog for others to read, too!

Thanks for everything!



About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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