It was one of those days.
By 8am I was ready to throw in the towel and the day had only just begun. The whole family seemed to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. My oldest was upset that I vetoed her chosen outfit and my youngest was upset that she had to go to school at all. My husband was mad no one was listening, and we were all tired from being up too late the night before. By breakfast time there had already been much crying, whining, fighting, and a whole lot of yelling.
As I sat down to the table and looked at the three unhappy faces glaring back at me I knew it was my job to find a way to redeem the morning. A stern lecture began forming in the back of my mind. I was ready to let them have it. I turned to my oldest daughter, opened my mouth to speak, and then quickly closed it again. I'm still not quite sure what stopped me, but in that moment I opted for a different approach.
Instead of lecturing, I simply said, Tell me five things you are grateful for.
Her face instantly lit up as she easily rattled off six or seven things she was thankful about. She was grateful for a yummy breakfast and clothes and a bed to sleep in and her American Girl Doll. She was even grateful for her sister and mommy and daddy and for her teacher and friends at school. Her four-year old sister chimed in, declaring that she was grateful for puzzles and the monkey bars and dress up clothes and candy. And then it was my turn.
What are YOU grateful for mommy?
I have no trouble spotting an attitude of discontentment in my children, that yearning and wanting and constantly needing something more. No sooner do they get what they want than they are on to the next thing, pining for something else that is just out of reach. It frustrates me that they are sometimes incapable of simply enjoying the moment, of appreciating all that they have instead of worrying about what they are missing out on. Sometimes their insatiable need for more scares me just a little. And yet how often am I guilty of the very same thing?
It can sneak up on us so quickly, often before we even realize it is happening. We order dinner at a fancy restaurant and instantly long for the dish our husband ordered. We complete a home improvement project only to look around and see all that isn't done yet. We see a nicer car in the parent pickup line and wish we could afford a newer model. We read catch a glimpse of someone else's life in a magazine or blog and all of the sudden our own existence seems inadequate.
Phillippians 4:4-7 reminds us to “rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition, with Thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It is easy to bring our concerns and requests before God. Sometimes we treat prayer like a fast food restaurant, making our order so that we can get in and out and be done. We forget—or at least I do—that we must also be intentional about thanking God for what he has done in our lives and in the lives of others. We have to take time to recognize all the specific ways in which we have been blessed. An attitude of continual gratitude is the fastest way to chase away the rumblings of discontentment. A friend of mine puts it another way. She tells me, you can either feel stressed or feel blessed, but not both.
In my own home I have found that it helps to have frequent conversations with my kids about the things we are grateful for, to count the blessings in our lives, and to actively look for ways to serve others. We call it our Attitude of Gratitude. This is not a one-time conversation. Kids don’t work that way. We talk about it daily, when we wake up, during playtime, during homework time, in the car, and especially at the breakfast table on rough mornings. It is a nearly constant topic of conversation. It has to be, because if it's not, they forget.
Because honestly, as a parent, this lesson of gratitude, of a grateful heart and a giving spirit is not something I can simply talk about. They have to see it in me. It must live in me. This requires some serious prayer and reflection, and a humble & repentant heart.
It also requires me to be intentional about where we spend our time and energy and focus this holiday season, because it is not just about talking. It is about doing too. I have discovered that there are no shortages of opportunities to serve and give back, even if my kids are small, and even if our schedule is already packed to the gills.
Some of our favorite traditions include filling Operation Christmas Child boxes, ringing the Salvation Army bell outside the local Publix, delivering Thanksgiving dinner to shut-ins, singing carols for those in need of some holiday cheer, and delivering cookies to the local firehouse on Christmas Eve to thank the fireman for working to keep us safe while the rest of us get to be home with our families.
There are many gifts I will give my kids this year, but I know the most important thing I can give them is an Attitude of Gratitude, and to show them, through my own example, things like faith, joy, peace, hope, contentment, & compassion. I can’t help thinking those are the best gifts of all.
Ruth Soukup, LivingWellSpendingLess.com