There's not much going on to support that idea! Thanksgiving, if mentioned at all, is all about stuffing your face and getting ready to consume bargains on Black Friday. People are keeping scorecards: Who's opening? What time? What's on sale there? Two women in Beaumont, CA set up camp in front of their local Best Buy on November 5, more than three weeks ahead of the big sale. They don't even know specifically what will be on sale, they just want to be first in line.
In the face of such relentless attempts to stoke our appetites it becomes important to cultivate a grateful heart, first in ourselves, and then in our children. Gratitude is the only antidote to greed. Since there are very few media invitations to gratitude, it's up to us to practice and model gratitude. And practicing gratitude has a huge payoff - peace!
I live in a small town without even a Walmart to call our own so I was curious to see if the youth of this community, who shop far less than their suburban counterparts, might be more steeped in gratitude. I had a good sample of 20 or so 7th and 8th graders as a captive audience this week. We handed around index cards and asked them to write down something they were thankful for on one side of the card. Then we talked about Paul's injunction to be thankful in all circumstances and asked them to flip their cards over and think about a circumstance where they couldn't imagine being thankful. Then they were asked them to "Stump the Chumps" (me and their pastor) and we looked for ways to be thankful in the scenarios they had dreamed up: someone you love is murdered, a car accident, a bad diagnosis, being bullied, etc. It didn't take long for them to catch on and start finding something to be grateful for in each circumstance, making the "Chumps" unnecessary. At the end, we gave thanks for the things they had initially written down on their cards. Each of the 20 had chosen one of three things: parents, families, and friends.
I was discouraged that they had come to the table with so little gratitude no apparent awareness of the gifts of shelter, education, food, health, or a host of other possible choices, Still, I was very glad that they appreciated their relationships more than their cell phones. And I was encouraged that after our exercise I detected a note of embarrassment as student after student said family or friends or parents.
Gratitude, for most of us, is more an ingrained habit than an inborn talent. Family is a perfect context for learning to be grateful. The old-fashioned practice of saying grace before meals is a gratitude practice. Simply reciting "God is great. God is good. And we thank God for our food." creates an awareness that food is something to be appreciated. Stopping to pray before meals and freely expressing specific gratitudes for specific circumstances is also a good way to teach/learn/practice gratitude.
Other natural contexts within the family might include:
- Requiring good manners: saying thank you when receiving a gift (whether that gift is a birthday celebration, a basket of clean laundry, a warm drink on a cold day, or a ride to a friend's house.)
- Raising awareness using natural triggers: giving thanks for first responders when hearing sirens, speaking thankfully of income sources when getting cash at the ATM, appreciating good service when it happens, good health when engaging in active recreation
- Focusing awareness: simply asking familiy members to think of one thing they are grateful for each day and to share it, or put up a white board for keeping track of blessings
I have kept a gratitude journal off and on for many years. Though I haven't been consistent, it is fun to look back and see what inspired my gratitude in other stages of life: a child's long nap, a windy day for drying beach towels, prepared food in the freezer, an accident avoided, good medical care, helpful friends, wisdom from my mother or father or child, a good book, an inspiring sermon, a reminder, no cavities, a telephone call, a day without driving, and so on.
Though it may be obvious, the biggest gift of the gratitude practice is that is cultivates an awareness of God, and of God's goodness. It is hard to comprehend the immensity of God's goodness, but itemizing our daily gifts helps us see God at work in our lives - and in that grateful state be immunized from the germs of greed that draw us away from God. In the language of bumper stickers:
May you know gratitude and peace this season!