With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's a perfect time to remind our families about the importance of being grateful to God for His blessings and to train our children to be thankful.
But as parents, it's not always easy.
"Hey, that's not fair! You already got one-and-a-half more pieces than me!" Our 11-year-old glared at her brother, as he proceeded to "stake his claim" by grabbing for the butter and syrup.
As I was working on yet another batch of French toast for breakfast, I realized our kids definitely needed more than food on their plates. Our family needed a fresh lesson in thankfulness and gratitude. The petty bickering was really bothering me, especially in light of several stories I had read only a few hours earlier.
So, while the kids sat on their stools at our kitchen counter, waiting (not so patiently) for our next round of French toast, I proceeded to give a lesson:
"You know, kids, we need to be thankful for what we have, and realize that we've been given a lot! In the Bible, God says, 'In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you' (I Thessalonians 5:18). Instead of complaining, God wants us to continually live with an attitude of thankfulness and joy."
Just that morning, I had been reading a Voice of the Martyrs magazine, about how a minister named Richard Wurmbrand had endured persecution while being imprisoned for his faith. He had spent over 14 years in Romanian prisons, including long periods in complete solitude - with no Bible, no books, no scrap paper or pencils, and (obviously) no one to talk to. Even during this horrible time, this man still found ways to be grateful. The article shared how Rev. Wurmbrand meditated on scripture he had memorized, and how he (along with other Christian prisoners) kept his mind active by praying fervently throughout the night for various needs from around the world. Yet the example that most-deeply touched my heart was reading about how this man of God learned to rejoice.
For a moment, I put down my spatula and reached for the magazine lying on the counter. "Just listen to this guy's attitude," I told my kids. "This man found reasons to be grateful, even in prison, and even when there was absolutely nothing to be thankful for:"
"The Bible tells us about one of the great joys we can have," Rev. Wurmbrand explains, "even in a prison cell: 'Rejoice with those who rejoice' (Romans 12:15). I rejoiced that there were families somewhere who gathered with their children, read the Bible together, told jokes, and were happy with each other. Somewhere there was a boy who loved a young girl and dated her; I could be happy about them. There they had a prayer meeting; and there was someone who studied; and there is somebody who enjoyed good food, etc. We could rejoice with those who rejoiced."
- Quote by Richard Wurmbrand, Founder of The Voice of the Martyrs - (Excerpted from The Triumphant Church, pp.32-33).
We need to have hearts of gratitude, which means being thankful for even little things that we usually take for granted.
I asked my kids, "When was the last time you were grateful for your toothbrush or toothpaste . . . or for your teeth? Or when was the last time you were thankful for hot running water, or a good toilet?"
That morning, I was also inspired by three examples I had read in a little booklet about gratitude, and my kids heard about these as well:
Back in the 19th Century, a well-known commentator named Matthew Henry was robbed. Yet even in the midst of a terrible circumstance, this man found ways to be grateful. Just listen to this attitude, as written in Henry's journal:
"Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed!"
David Brainerd, a devoted missionary to the Native American people, was characterized by a thankful spirit. Even when he had a high fever and great pain, he was thankful that this challenge had come when he was among friends; when he ill and alone in his little hut, he thanked God saying, "Blessed be the Lord, I am not exposed in the open air..."; and in another instance, facing weeks of outdoor solitude, forging through swamps, and enduring dark nights, he thanked God that his loneliness "drove him to experience intimate fellowship with the Lord..."
And if you remember Disney's classic film, Pollyanna, a missionary orphan goes to live with a difficult aunt. This sweet-natured girl brings joy to the entire town by looking on the bright side of things, an attitude she calls her "Glad Game," even in the midst of challenges.
(Examples adapted from The Attitude of Gratitude, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss).
Proverbs 22:6 tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go"; and in Deuteronomy 6:7, "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up."
By the time the kids had a fresh plate of French toast, they also had a quick lesson in gratitude, and I was feeling better as a mom.
Later, our son came up to me and asked for forgiveness for his attitude; and I could tell he was truly sorry. And our daughter, who just moments ago listened to me read this article, asked me to please tell you all that she already said she was sorry, and that she's thankful . . . but actually, her brother was the one who started it.