One of the great privileges of my life has been visiting orphanages in places like Russia, China, and South Africa. Taking our children to see those little ones who had no parents, no room of their own, no toys or clothes of their own was life changing. Through these many visits we learned that those who have little are often much more grateful than those of us who have much.
Gratitude is not natural. It is an attitude that must be taught and nurtured. And it is a task more difficult for parents in the West because of our abundance and prosperity.
There is a story in the Bible that is very hard for us to understand. It is the story of the Israelites being punished for ingratitude by wandering in a desert for 40 years. As a parent, I hated it when my children complained about what they had to eat or what they weren’t allowed to wear that everyone else could wear or what they couldn’t have. After all, didn’t they know we were trying to do our best in raising them?
We gave penalties for complaining and had them memorize Bible verses in hopes that they would get the point, but we never were as radical in our discipline as God was with His kids. I might have banished my children to their rooms for 30 minutes for complaining, but to be banished to a desert for 40 years seems a bit over the top!
Why did God make such a big deal about only a bad attitude?
I think because He understood better than we can possibly imagine how an ungrateful heart is really a proud heart, a heart of rebellion to the parent who is providing with love. Because children are born selfish, it is the parent’s job to train their children’s hearts to be grateful. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a worthy one, for a child with a thankful heart is a delight to parents and to others. And I’m quite sure our Father in heaven will be smiling as well, on your child and on you for a job well done.
But to tell the truth, my kids aren’t the only ones in our family who have a problem with ungratefulness and complaining. Unfortunately, I have to wonder how much of it they caught from their mother. It’s not something you’d see unless maybe you lived with me. But I’m sure that you’d see my problem if you saw my heart.
So if I’m going to have grateful kids, I have to commit to being a grateful mother.
Here are a few practical ways to begin modeling gratitude for your family.
- Talk out loud and frequently about things for which you’re thankful—big and small.
- Let your kids see you thanking waitresses, cleaning staff, Sunday school teachers, and “unseen” helpers. Prompt them quietly to thank people who serve them. Make thank-you notes a normal project in your home, and include people like pastors and your children’s ministry leaders.
- Thank your children for their help around the house, their kindness to siblings, exhibiting a good attitude, and any other small things you notice throughout the day.
- As a family, memorize scripture that sets your hearts and minds on thankfulness. Try 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to start, “Give thanks in all things.”
No matter your age, to cultivate gratitude, you’ve got to step out of what you normally do, which is to think about yourself. Step out of your natural bent toward selfishness and focus on somebody else because that is the essence of thanksgiving and gratitude. For us, as believers, it’s directing our thanksgiving and our gratitude toward the source of everything that we enjoy in life, which is God Himself. Teaching our children to do this will prepare them to live a grateful life of worship.
What practical tips do you have to cultivate contentment? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.
PS: Here are some more tips for cultivating gratitude in your children: http://bit.ly/1llQOoH