The leaves are changing color and falling off the trees. The days are growing colder and shorter. I’ve pulled out my sweaters from a box on the highest shelf in my closet and hung them on the rod instead. A beautiful, joyful, cozy holiday is approaching and I don’t mean the one that all the stores are decorated for. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. With football and pumpkin pie, turkey and feasting with friends and family, the time has come to begin giving thanks.
I have noticed in my children lately a distinct lack of thankfulness. There is much whining instead. And to me, there is very little that is more fatiguing than listening to complaining and grumbling. Lately, whenever I stop their play to come to school, chores, projects, or to get ready to go on some outing or another, I am met with sullen countenances, whining tones, and general grouchiness.
It isn’t like I don’t understand. When I am reading an article I found on Facebook, or when I’m in the middle of my Shutterfly project, or when I’m trying to get something done, and some thing or child interrupts me, I’m a bit snappy too.
So we all need to work on cultivating thankfulness in our hearts. For contentment counteracts complaint.
If we are content with what we have, we will not grumble for more. The act of giving thanks banishes fits of sullen tempers.
In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 , Paul tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is a challenging passage. Rejoice always? Give thanks in all circumstances? What about when I am interrupted from doing important things? Or my husband is out of work? Or we can’t make the rent? Or my child is in the hospital?
What about in the day to day frustrations of having your toddler draw on the wall again? Or dealing with sick children? Or working hard not to scream when your clumsy kid accidently breaks a precious heirloom?
The key to rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances is found between the two: Pray without ceasing. If you are in constant communion with God, He will give you the strength, wisdom, and perspective to give thanks in all cicumstances. To rejoice, even in the midst of trials and challenges.
So this month, we all need work on cultivating thankfulness. Here’s what we’re doing to do that:
1. Prayer: Obviously, as previously stated, the only way to have thankfulness is to pray and ask God. When one of my children approaches me with whining, I will stop the conversation and share I Thessalonians 5:16-18 and then pray out loud, for the Lord to give us both a heart of thankfulness and contentment. The secret to being content is that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:11-13)
2. A Habit of Counting Your Blessings: Next I require the whining child to tell me something that he or she is thankful for with a happy heart. And that happy heart needs to show up on the face! I am working to train a habit in all of our minds to think of a blessing when we are tempted to complain. This is an important switch of perspective and focus that requires some mental effort and therefore takes the mind off of the current situation. Often, we use a bit of humor to help us out. How thankful I am for humor that can help diffuse tense and difficult moments.
3. A Thankfulness Tree: This month, we are building a Thankfulness Tree on the wall next to our dining table. My husband cut out a trunk and branches from an old cardboard box and we taped it to the wall. He also cut out paper leaves in green, yellow, orange, and red. At dinner, we go around the table and share what we are thankful for that day. I write these on the leaves and we tape them on our tree. It is encouraging and fun to do this together. And it is a perfect decoration for our wall in this month of Thanksgiving!
4. Play Thankful Games: For the last few years, as soon as our oldest were old enough to participate, we have played the Thankfulness alphabet game with our children in November. At dinner time, we go around the table and give a thing we are thankful for in alphabetical order. We have to say everyone else’s previous items too! So this activity trains the mind in remembering and our hearts in thankfulness.
5. Singing: Ephesians 5:18b-20 says to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As we sing songs in with grateful and worshipful hearts, our spirits are lifted and there is no room for complaining in ou hearts. Our hymn this month is I Will Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving. We sing it every morning and it is a very cheerful song to start the day with! In the evenings, my husband leads them in songs such as, Give Thanks with a Thankful Heart. We also review hymns we’ve learned such as Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and It is Well With My Soul. Another hymn I want us to learn is Come Ye Thankful People Come.
6. Notice Thankfulness: I will be encouraging all of us to notice when someone is thankful, either in our family, our circle of friends, or in the books we read or things we watch. If we spot a great example of thankfulness, we can discuss it and uphold it as worthy of emulation. There are several folk and fairy tales that promote thankfulness and contentment, such as Androcles and the Lion, The Fisherman and His Wife, The Elves and the Shoemaker, and Snow White and Rose Red. I don’t want to do much preaching or “moralizing,” but I do want to notice good (and bad) examples of gratitude so that we might have some good discussions about the value of the virtue and the consequences of lacking it.
That is what we are doing to cultivate thankful, grateful hearts, which is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Is there anything special you do to cultivate thankfulness in your heart or family?