When my kids were itty bitty, we would play a game- they’d hand me a cup of pretend tea and I’d say “Thank you!” Then, I’d hand them the cup back and they’d say “tee-too.” Back and forth we’d go, giving and taking and thanking one another, and starting all over again. It got to a point when saying “thank you” became automatic- kind of like little well-mannered robots.
After some time, it became embarrassingly clear that, though I taught my children how to appear grateful, I had never taken the time to teach them how to actually be grateful. To them, saying ‘Thanks’ was a reflex. They’d been well-programmed: someone gives you something, you say the words. But I didn’t want robots, I wanted to raise people who were gracious and appreciative and thankful. I had to get to the heart of the matter.
So, instead of teaching them just to robotically say “thank you,” I decided instead to, in the most age-appropriate way possible, make sure they understood some basic principles of gratitude:
- To be truly thankful for what we have, we have to give up the idea that we deserve anything – lest we become entitled.
- To have a grateful heart, we have to understand that every single thing that is given to us requires a sacrifice from the giver (even if it’s not a seemingly big sacrifice, see #1) – lest we become spoiled.
- To be truly appreciative, we need to purposefully notice what we’ve been given, lest we become discontent.
It took many conversations in the years that followed to really establish the truth. We had to revisit the principles of gratitude over and over again until they sunk all the way in. The truth is that grateful behavior comes out of a grateful heart, not the other way around. We can control what our children do, but if we don’t take the time to go deeper, we are going to find ourselves with shallow, entitled, spoiled, discontent androids on our hands, and who even wants that?
I was thinking about all of this the other day as I realized my prayer time has become a little stale. I try to start with gratitude when I pray: “Thank you, Lord, for my children, for my husband, for this home. I thank you for the beautiful gift of salvation….and here are the things I would like you to handle for me.” But I’m realizing lately that I’m becoming a little robotic. I say the ‘Thank Yous,’ but mainly just because I know I should, and I certainly want to take care of the praise before I start with the petitions.
Looking at that truth up close was a little gross, to be honest, and it led me to think about the principles of gratitude that I worked so hard to teach to my children those many years ago. I began to realize that the reason my prayers have been going stale is because I am praying with an entitled, spoiled, discontent robot heart. I claim to desire a real, authentic relationship with Jesus- so why would I settle for cold, impersonal programmed gratitude?
This year, as my family holds hands and bows their heads around the Thanksgiving table, I’m going to make an effort to take a look around, soak in the amazing gifts I’ve been given, remember that I deserve none of this and that it all comes at a price. I’m going to take a moment and let my heart fill with genuine, real, authentic gratitude until it overflows into true praise and thanksgiving. Isn’t it wonderful to know that the lessons we teach our children can be good for us too?
For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45b NKJV