No problem. That’s what most people seem to say instead of you’re welcome when they’re thanked these days. I don’t think it comes from bad manners of from being disrespectful. I think it comes from our changing culture.
I remember taking Spanish in high school, learning de nada as the response to gracias. It seemed odd to me then, and it still does.
No problem? For nothing? These common replies are meant to be polite, but they can feel like a brush off for something too trivial to be of any importance to the person who extended the kindness. In which case it shouldn’t matter to me, either.
No problem and de nada, those phrases keep our interactions at the surface and at arms’ length from each other. I know because I participated in my own versions of them.
When I was a teenager, my mother’s cousin told me I had beautiful teeth. I didn’t say thank you, instead I replied, “they’re too yellow.” I was typical for my age, perceiving every physical flaw as through a 10x magnified mirror.
It took me years to learn to accept compliments, to recognize that saying thank you honored the person offering the compliment. Saying thank you meant she was allowed her opinion and perception (she didn’t have to argue for it, like my cousin) and that I both heard and acknowledged it. It didn’t mean I agreed, and it didn’t mean I was in danger of becoming vain.
In the same vein, it took me years to answer thank you with you’re welcome. I was an adult for decades before no problem came in vogue, but I had my own ways to brush aside thank yous for things like driving a friend’s child to a party or sports practice or making a neighbor a casserole. I replied with statements like, “I had to drive there anyway,” or “I was already cooking.”
My answers reflected being female in a culture where it was (is?) expected and natural to do for others without asking for, and hence, without knowing how to receive thanks. But there was something else underneath my I was already… something I bristle against when I hear no problem that has nothing to do with humility.
That something is fear. If my actions matter and make a difference in your life, If I do something that is not no problem—something that might have actually been a problem—and I open myself up to see your gratitude, that scares me because I get a glimpse inside your life, maybe even at your raw need, and I’m afraid.
I don’t want you to need me. And, I’m afraid of having my own great need exposed.
I am afraid you will want more of me, more from me, things I can’t give. And, I’m afraid that I too, like the dog under the table, will beg and whimper, asking for crumbs from someone who can’t feed me, when I could be satisfied with the food only God can give me. Thanks and no problem seem safer, but they’re not enough.
It was through ministry that I learned to say you’re welcome when people thanked me. Sometimes it felt de nada since I was as (if not more) nourished by preparing and delivering a sermon as they were receiving it. But other times, what I had done felt like difficult work, pushing me beyond my own comfort zone and my usual limits. Then it was for something and the thank you came with other words about the impact and meaning of my action and my reply needed to be on par with that expression.
As we approach Thanksgiving and extend our thanks and gratitude to the people in our lives as well as to our God, may we also practice Thanksreceiving, accepting the gratitude offered to us, knowing that the good we do flows from us and through us and to us but originates elsewhere. You are welcome.