Have you ever received inauthentic gratitude or praise? How well do you show authenticity?
We raise our children to say please and thank you, but it’s obvious when they don’t mean it. As they mature they learn to play the part and it becomes harder to tell if they mean it or not.
Dr. Paul White recently told me a story about a seminar he led for business leaders. The discussion turned to the importance of giving authentic appreciation. One leader asked him, “Isn’t it good enough that they believe you’re being authentic? After all, perception is reality, right?”
Dr. White responded that reality is reality and people can tell when you’re authentic. As a test of this brazened man’s approach, Paul asked the man’s co-workers if they would be likely to believe his words of praise when they went back to the office. They responded that they never have trusted anything he says.
Authenticity isn’t the full answer
Most of us aren’t that overt in our disguised thankfulness, but sometimes it can catch us off guard.
I’m embarrassed by the following story. When we were leaving Chicago to move to San Diego a member of our church wanted to give us a gift. We had just finished packing all our belongings into moving pods and didn’t have room for anything else. But this gentleman showed up with a book, a seemingly benign gift. But the book felt like a dagger as it made me realize this person saw a weakness in me. Besides, I already owned the book, but apparently wasn’t practicing what it said.
He’s where I failed. I didn’t accept the gift. I tried to be gracious, but I said, “I already own that book” and gave it back to him. It was a highly awkward moment. I was authentic, but not terribly gracious.
“With their words, the godless destroy their friends,—Proverbs 11:9 NLT
but knowledge will rescue the righteous.”
Authenticity before God
David acknowledges that God knows our hearts and our motives (Psalm 139:1). If we’re honest, we know we’ll never have completely pure motives until we’re in heaven. However, since the Holy Spirit lives in us, we know he will convict us of our sins and even reveal the “sin beneath the sin.”
But God delights in receiving our praise and prayers of thanksgiving, even if we’re like the little child learning to say thank you but doesn’t really mean it. Learning to recognize that God is the giver of everything we have teaches us to be grateful.
In my conversation with Paul White, he said something that struck a chord with me. He thanks God daily for the creator of glasses. Without glasses, he wouldn’t be able to see the sunrise, the snow, or his books. Wow. I personally am legally blind without glasses and yet I realized, at that moment, that I take glasses for granted.
Where do you take God’s creative works for granted? Think about how he has enabled men and women to use their creative gifts to build airplanes, the internet, and highways. Without these resources, most of our lives would look very different.
Is honesty the same as being authentic?
Authenticity is the word of the day. Businesses are challenged to be open and honest in their communication. Christians flock to churches where pastors share the Word of God authentically and with power. We prefer to be in small groups with believers who are open and authentic.
Until it bites us.
Have you ever shared something openly and honestly with a believer and had them use it against you?
When I was in my early twenties, a brother shared a private prayer request with our small group. A few days later I shared that secret as a prayer request with someone at church. The word got back to him; I’ll never forget the feeling of betrayal from this brother. He never shared anything with me again.
God showed me that being authentic and honest doesn’t give us permission to gossip. Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.” I vowed I would learn to keep confidences in my relationships.
I’ve also experienced the flipside where something I shared in private was later used against me and my family. It hurts to be vulnerable, but I would rather live openly before God and with close friends and take that risk. Of course, I’ve also learned that trust needs to be earned.
Authenticity and our language
When I was in seminary, there was a trend among younger pastors to display their authenticity through coarse language. It wouldn’t be uncommon to hear f-bombs dropped. While there is a valid case to be made that words change in meaning over generations, the heart behind this language was to shock the older generation and seek to be relevant to a seeking world. I fear it backfired for many of these pastors.
I’m not sure how this happened, but these bible students conveniently forgot Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God” (Eph. 5:4).
Look at that! The opposite of coarse talk is thankfulness. We’ve come full circle. True authenticity will lead to deep gratitude.
4 Ways to Practice Authenticity that Lead to Gratitude.
Here are four ways to start practicing authenticity that will lead toward genuine gratefulness:
- Start small – While grand gestures can be meaningful, most people appreciate the small regular words of meaningful thanks. Besides, it’s far easier to find something small that you can authentically say.
For example, “Jon, I really appreciate it when you share your ideas in our meetings. You’re always respectful, but you’re not afraid to hold on to your position while we sort out the best way forward. It makes me feel respected as your leader and I know you’re committed to our success. Thank you.”
Notice a specific behavior and describe it. Then tell them how it makes you feel. This comes across far better than, “Thanks for sharing your ideas today, Jon.”
- Be consistent – Instead of waiting for a quarterly or annual review—or for date night with your spouse—find ways daily or regularly to notice things. I have friends who make an appointment to send a daily thank you card or note. The simple act of thanking someone every day in a meaningful way will develop this into a habit.
- Think ahead – Your words of thanks will feel more genuine if you’ve planned in advance what you want to say. It gives you the chance to be specific and less forced.
- Learn their love language – In their book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Dr. Paul White and Dr. Gary Chapman describe the five different ways people like to give and receive appreciation. The biggest lesson I’ve gained is that I tend to think everyone else wants to receive appreciation the same way that I do—that’s not necessarily true.
Choose one of these 4 ways to start practicing gratitude today.
Father, thank you for loving me even when my gratitude is shallow and inauthentic. I’m grateful you don’t ignore my sin, but instead that you paid the price for it even before I ever knew I needed forgiveness. Forgive me for continuing to second guess your goodness. I pray your Holy Spirit will replace my fear with love and joy. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.