There are few things that fly all over me when I see them in my kids like ungratefulness. As I’ve been thinking about it, there are a couple of reasons for this. First, like everything else, the things that annoy me most when I see them manifested in my children are those things that annoy me most about myself. My natural tendency toward ungratefulness causes me to be really bugged when I see it in my kids. Secondly, I’m a huge believer that gratefulness is the first step to loving and serving Jesus well.
Unfortunately, the world we live in seems to throw ungratefulness and want in our face all of the time. Much of TV and other media advertising is designed to sow discontent in our hearts, unhappiness that can, of course, be instantly be relieved by the products they’re selling. I was listening to a great sermon series by Matt Chandler on God’s design for men and women, and he was saying that, whereas the two most common sins that men struggle with are passivity and aggression, for women it is comparison and perfection. Chandler notes that it is a particular challenge for moms, because whatever some other mom is doing with her children either creates guilt over our failures in our own children’s lives, or forges a false sense of superiority that masks insecurity. The standard for ourselves, our marriages, our children, our bodies, our careers, is perfection, and when we don’t have that (because we won’t), discontent leads to ungratefulness, ungratefulness to all kinds of worldliness—miles away from the greatness that God created us to live. Mom used to say that “comparison is the thief of joy.” That woman was on to something.
Which is why Thanksgiving is so awesome. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to cultivate gratefulness in our own hearts, and to do so in the lives of our kids, as well. First, it’s an opportunity to remember that gratefulness is not primarily a feeling, but a discipline. It’s not something that I experience when I have everything I want or need, but a choice to be glad and joyful for the things that God has given me. The default, fleshly mode is always discontent, and I can always find something to complain about, something I don’t have. That’s easy, and dangerous. I have to pray every day that the Holy Spirit will quicken my heart toward the things I’ve been given. When I was preaching at church this past week I mentioned the reality that, when you really think about it, all of us are born into sin. All of us are rebels against God. If we all got exactly what we deserved, we would die immediately and spend eternity in Hell. Now, from that starting point, look at your life: What do you have? Everything that is not death and Hell is a beautiful, gracious, spectacular gift from a God who loves you so much that He thought you were worth dying for, and upon whom He’s showered all of these other gifts. Kind of perspective changing, isn’t it?
Next Thursday, when you’re sitting around the table, get your kids to list all of those things, those gifts from God. The list really starts to stack up when you get beyond the stuff He’s given, which is definitely good, and start talking about things that really matter, like health, and relationships, and family. Then, ask them about something hard they’ve experienced this year, a challenge that they have faced. Ask them to talk about how God has used that to draw them to Him, to bring about fruit in their lives, to make them more like Him. Help them make the connection that those challenges that draw us close to the Lord are blessings, too, even when they’re hard and painful. We don’t draw close to Him when everything is wonderful, as is evident from everything we’ve been saying. All of the great lessons we learn come from trials, so those are actually things to be grateful for, too.
I want to be one of those folks who I love so much, those people who are generous, and grateful, and gracious, and whose lives are a blessing to other people. I’m praying that God will make me into one of those people, and that my kids will see it and become those people, too. Because gratefulness is the pathway to righteousness, and it starts with Thanksgiving.