Often with kids in the house, things can feel anything but grateful during Thanksgiving.
We have really high hopes that this Thanksgiving will be filled with gratitude, along with multicolored leaves and all things pumpkin and turkey. Then life seems to happen and another year slips by. If this is you, know you’re not alone.
When the kids are preschoolers and the noise just never seems to stop, it’s hard to have any headspace to truly give thanks.
When the children are school-aged, the days seem to whirl by as you rush around getting from school to activities to doctors’ appointments to errands, and you never quite slow down long enough to give thanks.
And then when you have teenagers? Bless them. Bless all of us. I don’t have teens yet, but I’ve heard stories — ones that both warm my heart and put the fear of God in me. Either way — bliss or horror — teens seem to be completely out of sight, or you simply never know which version of them will wake up in the morning. So you settle for survival over gratitude.
And then before we know it (just like everyone said it would), it happens. The days are long and the years are so very short. Our home that was once filled with so much noise is suddenly deafeningly quiet.
Season of Gratitude
This year can and will be different. We can live with intention during these long days, knowing that the years will fly by. It’s possible to have a Thanksgiving season filled with gratitude.
Do you need to hear that again? Friend, it’s possible to have a Thanksgiving season filled with gratitude — kids and parents alike. I promise.
Let’s not let these years fly by without teaching our kids how to be grateful. The days are long enough to give thanks, and the years will fly by, but they can fly by with whispers of gratitude from the mouths of our toddlers, school-aged kids, and teens. We can send them off into this world with a treasured skill that will see them through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows — giving thanks.
The most beautiful thing about gratitude is it’s an instant perspective shifter. I think that’s one of the reasons God encourages us, through His Word, to give thanks.
It’s hard to be grumpy about it taking forever to get shoes on when you pause to give thanks that you have shoes to put on. It’s hard to get frustrated when milk spills yet again when we pause to give thanks that our bellies are full of good things to eat and drink. It’s hard to get frustrated with the kid who has grades lower than you had hoped when you think about what a gift it is to have access to excellent academics. It’s hard to envy our neighbor’s house, a best friend’s decor, our colleague’s promotion, or that old friend you see on social media who has a flawless figure when we learn to give thanks for what we already have.
The Gratitude Tree
This Thanksgiving I want to teach you one of my very favorite traditions our family does during this holiday each year. This is easy, fun, and absolutely free. Are you ready for it? We give thanks!
I know, it sounds really simple. And the truth is the idea is simple, but it does require intention on your part.
One of the ways I’ve made it actually happen is by creating a “Thanksgiving Gratitude Tree.” The first year it started with a branch from the yard that I put in a vase (now I use a fake branch that looks real from the local craft store, so it lasts year after year). Then I cut up a bunch of blank pieces of paper and put one hole in them with a hole-puncher. I placed them in a jar (other years I’ve grabbed small chalkboard circles or wood leaves from the craft store). In another jar, I cut up pieces of string or raffia. And in one more jar, I have pens and colored sharpies. I make a sign that says something like: “Give thanks for something you’re grateful God has provided this year! Grab a paper leaf and write down what you’re grateful for, attach a string, and hang it on the tree.”
This is something that has become quite a treasure in our home. My littles, before they could write words, have scribbled their thanks-givings. This past year my oldest, now a third-grader, hung a new gratitude on our Thanksgiving Gratitude Tree every day. My heart burst to see her get it, and I felt a surge of hope that her little sisters will one day get it too. (This should be encouraging for any mamas with littles at home; all your efforts will pay off in time. Don’t give up!)
We invite our friends, family, and anyone else who comes in our door to hang what they’re thankful for on our tree. I’ve saved so many of these over the years, wanting to remember the day we heard: “Not cancer,” or the day I signed the book deal for Sacred Holidays: Less Chaos, More Jesus with Lifeway.
Shift in Perspective
Thanksgiving can fly by, but we have time to slow it down. The days are just long enough to give thanks even if it’s just once a day.
We learn about giving thanks all throughout the Bible. We hear about it again and again in the Psalms, like in Psalm 107:1, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever.”
Sometimes verses like these can be hard to read because we know them in our head — that God is so very good and His love is steadfast and enduring. However, in our present circumstances, it can feel anything but. I believe this is one reason why we’re encouraged to give thanks time and time again throughout Scripture; when we fix our eyes to try to see how God is moving and providing, and simply who He is, then we shift our perspective.
We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to, “Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As I shared earlier, one of my most treasured leaves that we’ve hung was the day I heard: “Not cancer.” That was just three years ago and the doctors told me I had a one in two chance of having chronic myeloid leukemia. It was a really hard season, to put it lightly. That Gratitude Tree was a gift that month while we were waiting for final test results to come back. To go to the tree and think of something each day that I was grateful for, even though an incurable disease might have been flowing through my body, was a gift. It helped shift my focus to the only One who could control what was happening to me. A few days before Thanksgiving we heard those words. One of the first things I did when I got home was to write it on a leaf and hang it on the Gratitude Tree. Now it’s one of those leaves I still treasure and rehang on the tree each year because I don’t ever want to forget the goodness and nearness of God both before I heard those words and after.
This year I challenge you to start your own Thanksgiving Gratitude Tree. You can do it just like we do: grab a branch, paper, string, pens, or come up with your own creative way to express it. Invite whoever comes into your home to join in giving thanks, or maybe this is something you could do at your place of work or even your church.
This article is adapted from HomeLife Magazine.
Let’s make our holidays sacred — holy and set apart. If you found this article helpful, we’d love to celebrate with you and see how you are applying it this year. Be sure to post a picture of your Thanksgiving Gratitude Tree and tag @sacredholidays and @beckykiser and use the hashtag #sacredholidays. To find more ideas like these for Thanksgiving and all the other holidays, grab your copy of Sacred Holidays: Less Chaos, More Jesus. You can also find a few more free Thanksgiving resources at beckykiser.com/thanksgiving.
Do you enter every holiday wanting it to be meaningful for your family, only to find that it feels chaotic with no direction? Holidays are meant to be more than chaos with glimpses of grace; they are meant to draw us closer to God and one another.
We want all the whimsy and joy the holidays held when we were children before life crowded it out. We want the holidays to reflect our love for Jesus and reveal the grace that has been lavished on us, but life is so busy that setting a game plan just doesn’t happen any more. It’s time to stopping trying to survive the holidays or overindulge the whimsy, and instead live in the abundant life He called us to live.
Sacred Holidays is part book and part resource: meant to help you avoid what has tripped you up in the past and give you insights, tips, and tools to make your holidays less chaotic and more about loving Jesus and others. Don’t let your holidays be marked by regret, whimsy whirlwinds, or survival mindset. Let’s celebrate every holiday together purposefully and worshipfully – loving Jesus and others well in every moment.