Despite the highest standard of living in the history of humanity, our generation seems driven by an insatiable desire for more, better and faster. Just when we should feel most satisfied, we find ourselves bored and disillusioned. The problem is not that things are so bad, but that we have lost a gift called gratitude.
The Scriptures urge believers to maintain a spirit of thanksgiving in all circumstances. We do so not as a gift to God, but as a gift from God. He doesn’t need our thanks, but we desperately need reminders that we are created beings dependent upon our Maker. Giving thanks realigns our hearts with the apostle Paul’s expression of praise in his letter to the Romans: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (11:36). Acknowledging God as the Source of all things frees us from the lie that we don’t need Him.
Unfortunately, children are born with a propensity toward greed, envy and other vices that foster discontent. Parents can help their children guard against that propensity by encouraging gratitude and explaining that we give thanks because it …
- Makes us rich: The endless pursuit of more creates artificial poverty. The discipline of gratitude, by contrast, brings natural wealth by freeing us from the snare of comparisons and unrealistic expectations. It is impossible to be truly grateful and discontent at the same moment.
- Cures our bent: According to Paul, contentment is a discipline we learn, not a feeling we experience. Remember, every one of us has a natural tendency toward discontent. That’s why we must remind one another to give thanks to the Source of our lives and livelihood.
- Gives us joy: It has been said that the worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank. A major part of joy in life is expressing gratitude to the One who meets our needs. Like helium fills a deflated balloon and lifts it to the heavens, thankfulness connects our spirits to the Source of all joy.
On this page, you’ll find activities, discussion questions and ideas to help your child discover the joy that springs from a heart of thankfulness.
- Giving thanks reminds us that we are dependent on God.
- We are all born with a propensity toward discontent.
- Thankfulness is a learned discipline that cures our discontent and fosters joy.
Family Memory Verse
1 Thessalonians 5:18
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
For a more in-depth study on a spirit of gratitude, read these Bible verses:
- Psalm 100:1-5
- Philippians 4:4-12
- Colossians 3:15-17
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
- Hebrews 12:28
Copyright © 2010 by Kurt Bruner. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
Play a gratefulness game with your child, following the rules of “I Spy.” Begin the game by saying, “I’m thankful for something in this room.” Offer clues until your preschooler guesses the object; take time to give the reason for your gratitude. Continue the game by saying, “I’m grateful for someone in the family.” Again, once your child guesses the person, share the reason for your thankfulness.
Also consider keeping a family gratitude journal. During the day, invite your preschooler to contribute to the journal by drawing a picture or gluing a photo of something she’s thankful for. Allow the rest of the family to write or draw in the journal, too. Before dinner, let your child explain her writings or drawings to the family and offer thanks.
Once a week, review the blessings with your child by looking through the pages in the journal. Pray with your preschooler and let her hear you give thanks to God for the blessings in your lives.
— D’Arcy Maher
Copyright © 2010 by D’Arcy Maher. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
Place a basket in the center of your dinner table. Help your child cut out leaf shapes from red, orange and brown construction paper. Throughout the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, help your child write things he is thankful for on the leaves (e.g., Grandma, a teacher, the cat). As you write on each leaf, place it in the basket.
At your Thanksgiving meal, spend time as a family pulling leaves out of the basket and reading each thing you are thankful for. Remind your child that God is the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), and talk about other blessings He has given your family. Afterward, say a prayer of thanksgiving to God, expressing gratitude for all His blessings.
To create a more permanent reminder, cut out a tree shape from brown construction paper and hang it on your refrigerator or wall. Tape the leaves onto the tree to serve as a reminder of what God has done.
— Suzanne Hadley Gosselin, Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr. editor Copyright © 2010 by Focus on the Family. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
Ingratitude often results from a failure to see God at work. Here’s a fun way to help tweens understand that God’s blessings are evident if we take the time to look for them.
Make a solution of equal parts milk and concentrated lemon juice. Dip a cotton swab into the liquid and write words such as life, family, forgiveness and abilities on a plain piece of paper. Customize the words for your family. Let the “ink” dry.
Show your kids the paper, telling them that you wrote down some things you’re thankful for. Since the words are invisible, expect some confused looks. Explain that God’s blessings in our lives are often invisible to us because we don’t take the time to give thanks.
At the kitchen sink, pass the paper over a flame from a small candle or lighter. The paper will need to be close to the flame, but not touching it. The flame will burn the carbon in the solution before it burns the paper, revealing the hidden words. (If the paper accidentally catches fire, drop it into the sink.)
Once all the words are visible, ask your children these questions:
- Why do you think people are often unaware of the blessings in their lives?
- Is it possible God does things for us every day that we don’t see?
- What might we be missing?
Hang the paper on the refrigerator as a reminder for the entire family to be more aware of God’s blessings. — Tim Shoemaker
Copyright © 2010 by Tim Shoemaker. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul challenges believers to be grateful no matter their circumstance. He reminds us that our strength comes from God — strength to do “everything,” including resist the temptation to be ungrateful or greedy.
Preaching to teenagers about the need for gratitude, however, isn’t likely to get you very far. Teens can smell a “sermon” a mile away. Instead of launching into a lecture about thankfulness, consider asking open-ended questions that delve into your teens’ world. Questions such as “What are a few things you really appreciate about your life right now?” provide insight into what your children are focusing on. They also create the opportunity for a deeper discussion on how gratitude can enrich us.
Feelings of joy and contentment come naturally when we focus on our blessings — even if we don’t have everything we want. To move in this direction, tell your teens that you’d like your family to experience the full benefits of gratitude, and challenge them to remind you to be more thankful. Maybe even ask them to keep you accountable when you begin to grumble. If your teens ask you to do the same for them agree to it, but don’t volunteer.
After all, as parents, we may recognize ingratitude in our teens but fail to notice our own poor attitude. By expressing our desire to grow in thankfulness, we have the privilege of exemplifying the very attitude we’d like to see in our teens.
— Pam Woody
Copyright © 2010 by Focus on the Family. ThrivingFamily.com.
Ask your children the following:
- If I were to give you tickets to Walt Disney World right now, would it be easy or difficult for you to express gratefulness? Why?
- What would your thankfulness look like?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:18. (“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”)
- How would you explain this Scripture in your own words?
- When is it easy for you to follow this advice in the Scriptures? When is it difficult?
- How can we be grateful during a bad day at school or when we feel discouraged or angry?
- How does a thankful attitude make life better?
- God gives us great gifts all the time — including His loving attention and presence each day. Why do we often neglect giving Him thanks?
- What are ways we can express thankfulness to God each day this week?
Wrap up the discussion with a prayer of thanksgiving, mentioning each of your children by name.
— Mike Nappa
Copyright © 2010 by Mike Nappa. ThrivingFamily.com.
This article first appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled “The Discipline of Gratitude.”