In Philippians 4:11–13 (NIV), the Apostle Paul explains: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Have you ever noticed how ungrateful your kids are? Well, maybe it is just certain kids. I remember one year I asked my son what he wanted to eat on his birthday. He told me that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tomato soup would be great.
“Do you want a cake?”
“Oh, Mom, anything you make will be fine.”
“Who would you like to invite?”
“Just Grandmom and Aunt Jennifer, Uncle Jim, and Isabella would be fine.”
This was music to a mother’s ears. My heart melted. Hadn’t I done a great job?!
A few months later it was time to plan my daughter’s birthday. “What would you like for your birthday, honey?”
“Oh, I know! I want a bounce house and a petting zoo for all my friends.”
“Hmmm . . . I was thinking of something on a smaller scale.”
A discussion followed that lasted for weeks, in which she had to accept that her vision of the appropriate birthday celebration did not match that of her parents. I nursed a sense of incredulity and outrage at the audacity of her request. Where is her sense of gratitude for her many blessings? Why does she always want more?
I am always looking for ways through which God might use me as a means of sanctification in the lives of my children. That is my job. One of my most sacred responsibilities is to lead them to Christ. On any given day there are copious opportunities to address their fallen natures. You know, they need to own their sin. By the way, despite this memorable example, both of my children are capable of remarkable ingratitude.
This year God is helping me begin to see that I am a worse ingrate than my children have ever been. Our family is undergoing a trial this year with a change in my husband’s employment. I have been managing our finances, enjoying the game of making it all work. I am truly amazed and quite pleased with my ability to hold it all together. And after all, nothing bad has happened—yet. That “yet” has contributed to many hours of sleeplessness, exasperation with my children, coldness and simmering anger toward my husband, and a general sense of ugliness that shames me, because I am the ingrate.
I recently read Ann Voskamp’s book The One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. With a wonderfully poetic writing style and transparent sharing of her own struggle, Ms. Voskamp explores the Greek word eucharisteo and its roots. Luke 22:19 (NIV) says “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them . . . .” The word eucharisteo translates to “he gave thanks.” In the face of the horrible suffering Jesus knew he was to endure, he gave thanks for bread. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace”; the derivative chara means “joy.” The author decides to begin a list of all the blessings in her life as a means of training herself into the kind of thankfulness that Jesus and Paul modeled. Having read this, I have started my own list.
Clearly, I have a long way to grow, but I am convicted that there is not one thing I can do to teach my children gratitude that would be more honest or more effective than to strive to learn it myself. Learning requires discipline. We begin by practicing basic skills. Those of us who are pursuing classical education understand this easily. To learn Latin, we begin by memorizing declensions, conjugations, and vocabulary. To learn history, we begin by memorizing events and people of specific time periods. Over a period of time, our studies become deeper, broader, and more nuanced. It may take a long time—many years—to become an expert in a subject area. Isn’t this also how sanctification works?
To begin to really understand gratitude and to teach it to our children, we must approach it as a discipline and practice the basic skills. It is relatively easy to memorize and recite Scripture passages and catechism questions and answers about salvation and God’s goodness. This is a worthwhile endeavor for a Christian family, but how do we really practice gratitude? Do we begin to keep a list? Why not?
This holiday season I challenge you to find ways to begin to practice more earnestly the discipline of gratitude. By beginning to cultivate a sense of discipline now, we can practice and grow in gratitude until we are specialists in this subject matter. What are your ideas for practicing the discipline of gratitude?