Growing in gratitude


Instilling a thankful heart in children fights consumerism
by Robert Partington

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you"   (1 Thess. 5:18, ESV).

In the autumn of 2002, my three-year-old son, Andrew, and I were visiting his sister, Elizabeth, while she slept peacefully in the neonatal intensive care unit. As Andrew and I admired Elizabeth's beautiful tininess, I invited him to pray for his new sister.

He began, "Dear God, thank you for Andrew and baby Elizabeth."

Recognizing this as one of those teachable moments, I said, "Andrew, you're not supposed to pray for yourself when you pray for baby Elizabeth."

Once again, Andrew prayed, "Dear God, thank you for baby Elizabeth and not Andrew."

Hmmm. I see we have some work to do here.

My wife and I invest a lot of time and energy trying to build character in our children. We love who our kids are, but we know we can't just sit back and admire these precious contributions to creation. God has entrusted us with the responsibility for shaping who they will become.

Shaping necessitates instilling values by teaching and modeling them to our children during the ordinary moments of each day. One of those values is gratitude. My wife, Melissa, and I want our children to grow up with grateful hearts—to feel thankful every day for the life God has given them and to be generous with their own expressions of gratitude.

That's a tall order. Bombarded by consumerism's message that happiness comes from getting stuff, Melissa and I strive to use the Christmas season to teach gratitude. This "most wonderful time of the year" is an especially meaningful time to talk with kids about gratitude for two disproportionate reasons: theologically for what God has done within history to redeem his people and as insurance against the seductive lies of consumerism that have a way of oozing into every corner of our children's lives.

As teens become adults and as adults mature, gratitude that began as a simple response to gifts or as courtesies now overflow into relationships and circumstances. Not all of them are positive, and some are downright painful. Yet gratitude is the right response.

About a month after Andrew offered his innocent prayer of thanks, our precious baby Elizabeth died during her second month on earth. We were crushed. Some of you know what that feels like.

At an evening Thanksgiving service at our church, we didn't plan to publicly express our gratitude to God for the life of our daughter. It must have been one of those things that God placed on our hearts. People approached us later with tears in their eyes, wondering how we could be anything but angry and bitter so soon after our loss. I didn't have an answer for them at the time, but looking back genuine gratitude was the right response to a holy and faithful God.

Robert Partington is a speaker and writer on the family, and the former executive director and founder of Peace in the Home, Inc.  Robert and his wife, Melissa, are raising and homeschooling their three children in Midlothian, Va.


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