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Our culture is very self-centered. My oldest son has been pointing out examples of that this past week, primarily advertising that tells us we “deserve” whatever it is they’re selling. We have a right to this, and are entitled to that.
My youngest has mentioned that, in the past, he’s always focused on what he wanted to get for Christmas, and maybe (at 8) he’s starting to realize that Christmas isn’t really about the getting.
Even during our family prayer times, we find ourselves struggling with our prayer list. We pray for many of our family and friends, but our prayer list can feel just like a Christmas list. God isn’t a heavenly Santa Claus, certainly, but when our prayers are focused on what we want from Him, it does start to feel a bit like a child with a letter for Santa.
We want to teach our children to be thankful, but how? Is there a way to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in ourselves and our children?
Start with the heart.
Children are excellent imitators. If we walk around the house while we talk on the phone, they will walk around the house when they talk on the phone. If we spend a lot of time watching television, they will spend a lot of time watching television. When we complain throughout the day about the situations we find ourselves in — you got it — so will they.
If we want our children to be grateful, we need to demonstrate that for them. What does gratitude look like? Perhaps it means saying, “I’m so glad our heater works. It’s gotten cold outside.” Instead of, “I hate this cold weather. I wish we lived in a warmer climate!” It’s a subtle shift in our thinking, requiring us to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.
I’m not a Pollyanna, and I don’t think life is all roses and sunshine. Sometimes life stinks. I get that. But if we choose to dwell on the negative or frustrating things, we pass our bitterness on to our kids. It’s not always easy to find something good in a particular situation, but if we look for them, they are usually there. That demonstrates thankfulness to our kids instead.
Tell the tales.
There are many instances in the Bible where the people were told to tell their children about what had happened. Pass down the stories, and repeat them often. Why is that?
“Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation.” Joel 1:3, NLT
Think about the stories you remember hearing several times as a child. You probably remember them pretty well, don’t you? What about a story you heard last week for the first time? You might not recall the details to that story as easily as you did the childhood stories.
The more we hear something, the easier it is to remember it. God told His children to tell their children the stories of how He provided for them, how He rescued them, and to pass the stories from generation to generation. Those oft repeated stories were for a purpose — they were to remind the people of God’s involvement in their lives.
If we regularly remember the ways God has been involved in our lives, we’re much less likely to view God as distant and uncaring. If we focus on His blessings, our hearts will be lighter and more hopeful. We can be thankful for all that He has done in the past, and find confidence in knowing that He is still the same God and will continue to be involved in our lives. It shifts our focus off of our current circumstances (however appropriate the grumbling may seem) and onto our Lord who is bigger than our circumstances.
But in order for our children to have that solid foundation, we need to tell them the stories. Tell them about how God has provided, how He has blessed, and how He has protected. It will remind us, and at the same time it will give our kids the stories to draw on when hard times come in their lives.
Be the example.
Share the stories.
What are you thankful for today? How has God been at work in your life?