Cultivating Gratitude: Moving From “I Have To” to “I Get To”

Two of my grandsons worked during their summers as counselors for Pine Cove Camp in Texas. It’s a great Christian camp with a long history of investing in kids, including inner city kids, and families.

One of Pine Cove’s goals every summer is training its leaders to be grateful servants. Not begrudging unhappy servants, but the kind of servant that looks more like Jesus, who willingly gave Himself to serve that He might win people for His kingdom.

To help accomplish this goal, and to be a model for the campers, the Pine Cove directors have a motto which says: “I get to.” The implication is that the counselors’ jobs are a privilege rather than a duty or a drudgery, even the jobs that aren’t pretty ones.

Tyler and James both shared how they learned to say, “I get to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to help in the kitchen to serve the kids breakfast.” Or, “I get to do lifeguard duty tomorrow afternoon to watch over all the kids in the pool to keep them safe.”

Ashley, their mom, told me this phrase carried over when they came home. Now she’s trying to remember to correct herself when she hears herself say, “I have to go take your brother to practice.” She changes it to “I get to …”

Interestingly, literally an hour after Ashley told me this story I was seated in my hair stylist’s chair listening to her give me an update on her husband. He’s had one health issue after another, and every time I marvel at her tenacious servant spirit and his resilient determination to keep working to get well.

Cynthia told me her husband called her with a change in their plans, which meant she had to assume some tasks for him that she wasn’t planning to do. As she continued her story she said, “I realized I was sounding whinny like a child and that I wanted to be grateful instead.” She said, “I changed my words and verbally said out loud, ‘I get to’ pack his suitcase for him and ‘I get to’ find a way to the airport on my own because finally he is well enough to be working again!”

I said, “You won’t believe I just heard this same phrase from my daughter.”

She replied, “Then I guess God wants us to pay attention?” I agreed.

Being grateful is a choice. Having an attitude of “I get to” changes our perspective, helping us see our life as a privilege, our circumstances as gifts, our duties (taking children to practices or tutoring or helping our husband) as a blessing.

Both of these conversations reminded me of a conference Dennis and I were a part of decades ago. It was run by a bunch of 20-somethings who created a motto which said, “You can’t make it hard enough for me to complain.” Our goal was to be grateful for every job and responsibility because we were all working together for a higher goal. It became contagious and we enjoyed the challenge of never complaining no matter how hard things got. Competition is a good thing when channeled positively. It can be a helpful tool for moms and dads too.

As I think about gratitude in this season when we more naturally are mindful of the concept, I’m very aware it’s not just our kids who are entitled … it’s all of us. Every. Day. We all need help changing our perspectives and our habits. We need to resist the way of the world which is entitlement and live more like Jesus … as servants.

It’s not easy to change your mindset—to change from “I have to” to “I get to.” Changing our lives is a cooperative work with God Himself. Only He can truly change hearts, but I have a responsibility to remind myself what pleases Him and feed my soul the truth that liberates.

Famous composer Johann S. Bach wrote on the top of every piece of music he composed the phrase “Soli Deo Gloria,” which means glory to God alone. It was a reminder to himself to keep God the focus of his musical work.

I need visual reminders like this. And likely you and your family do too. So try writing the words “I get to” on something you will see every day: a chalkboard, a piece of paper taped on your refrigerator or mirror or steering wheel. Help your kids practice this subtle but powerful shift of perspective. I’m going to do this.

Gratitude is contagious. The more you cultivate it in your life, the more you’ll see others follow your lead!

May we who belong to Jesus look more and more like Him … a hopeful, grateful, “get to” servant hearted community!

Click here for more ideas for cultivating gratitude in your family!

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