Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude

Sow seeds of thankfulness in your family by changing their perspective.

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Thankfulness is stopping long enough to say it or show it and making sure you pause in your busy day to receive it. In abundance, being thankful is an act of beauty, and acknowledging and appreciating the gifts in your life makes you want to give them away..

"Mom. Hey, Mom!" My son had said my name seven times in the last two minutes. I held up a finger, signifying he would wait until I paused in an important conversation with my husband, Terrell.

I continued talking and then — he said my name — one more time. I should've ignored it, but I'd lost my train of thought. Exasperated, I turned around and said loudly, "What, honey?" I think my left eye was twitching.

He looked half-scared of my tone but half-relieved it was his turn, "I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking us to the beach today. I know you and Dad don't love all the sand and the long drive, but you know we love it. I just had to say thank you for giving us the best day ever!" He beamed heartfelt gratitude. Oh.

I smiled at his thankfulness and let him know how much I appreciated it. We'd spent a lot of time discussing gratitude, and I was thrilled at his unexpected outburst of thankfulness. (And I also decided we needed to have some focused conversations on not interrupting adults even on the best day ever!) When I paused long enough to receive his gratefulness, my other kids immediately followed their brother's example. It quickly became a thank-you-fest, and it made Terrell and me feel great about our family day. I can't think of another attribute I'd like to develop in my children more than gratitude.

Nothing makes me smile like an unprompted thank you or an uninhibited burst of thankfulness, especially when my child is persistent enough to give it. I believe gratitude is the mark of a great person. A grateful heart doesn't complain or compare. A grateful heart doesn't grumble or gripe. A grateful heart is a beautiful thing. And it's rare.

I want to teach my kids to be thankful. I want them to see the good in their lives as gifts from God because that's exactly what they are. James 1:17 tells us "Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning."

One of the best ways to teach thankfulness is to allow our kids to be put into positions where their perspective is changed. It happened for my family this past summer when I encouraged my older kids to sign up to volunteer at the God's Wonders science camp at a nearby church. It caters to elementary kids. While they learn about magnets and radio waves, they also hear God's Word. Their little sister was attending, and I thought it would be a great chance for them to serve.

Besides completing an application, they had to write an essay on why they wanted to serve and turn in two personal references, supply a copy of their latest report card, and pay a fee for the opportunity. These things tend to be more "homework" for moms, but I was hoping the week of service would create an environment of gratitude for the family in the middle of the summer. Me included.

During the week of science camp, my kids came home every day with hilarious stories of small scientists who hung all over them and begged to hold the class salamander named Luke. After hours of serving small children, they were hungry and exhausted, falling into bed each night.

One particular night after dinner, while they were telling us stories about the kids, my daughter said, "I appreciate my teachers so much more now. This volunteering thing is hard work! I can't believe how tired I am." Her brother was quick to agree and added, "I love this week! It's so fun to be needed and to help out. I want to do this every summer, even though I'm pretty sure a boy licked me today."

Terrell gave me a knowing look, and we silently high-fived each other. By serving, not only did our kids get a perspective change and appreciate those who serve them regularly, they had fun.

And that's what gratitude does, it fills you up and makes you want to keep giving.

Thankful Living

Thankfulness often starts with our kids when they see it in us such as when Terrell and I thank someone who has served our family food at a restaurant or a teacher who has freely given her time. There are countless ways to look for gratitude in our everyday lives. I want my family to live out Colossians 3:17 no matter what is on our journey, "And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."

Gratitude is the key. Self-help author Melody Beattie said, "Gratitude ... turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."

It's often easier to be thankful to the obvious people in your lives. Home is often the last place you live gratitude. Here are five tangible ways to cultivate thankfulness in your home.

Serve It

In our every day lives, Terrell and I try to make service a normal part of our routine. When dinner is over, my kids don't ask if they have to help clean; it's expected. They've just been served a meal, cleaning up is a responsibility. We ask our kids to help each other as a way of serving one another — folding laundry, washing the car, feeding the pets.

We look for opportunities for acts of service toward others by doing things like cleaning up trash at the beach or mowing our elderly neighbor's side yard. I want my kids to know that servitude isn't something special we do for others. It's something we do normally because others have served us. My kids have innovative ideas and together, we're working on being grateful.

Say It

I think one of the best ways we can show gratitude is with our words. Saying thank you at restaurants, to teachers, clergy, neighbors, and friends is crucial, but sadly, it's often neglected. Kids take cues from parents, and sometimes parents have the most thankless jobs. My goal is to thank Terrell in front of our kids every time he takes out the trash or lends an extra hand around the house. Kids need to be verbally thanked, too. Thank-you notes seem to be a lost cause, but I know every time I receive one, it feels like a hug. It's something everyone can do.

Sacrifice It

In our society, we don't hear much about sacrifice. It's not popular to give something up. But it's still a valuable lesson to teach our children. I think true gratitude is born in sacrifice. Seeing others' needs as greater than our own is what thankfulness is all about and often comes with a perspective change. My 6-year-old wanted to raise money for something "good." It was such a simple thought, but I knew it was coming from a big heart. So, we jumped on the idea and within a couple of weeks, we hosted a garage sale, asked church friends to join us, and bought two sewing machines to start a business for an impoverished family in Kenya. It felt great to sacrifice our time, energy, and excess and then to see the good that came from it.

Show It

Sometimes the best way to show gratitude is through tangible means: A gift from the heart, an encouraging email, or a plate of cookies can make someone's day. These simple acts sometimes get lost in our high tech, fast-paced world, but they matter and can make a difference in someone's life. Take the time to show your gratitude to people in your life. In the words of President John F. Kennedy, "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

Search for It

Life isn't always easy and during difficult times, it's tempting to focus on the negative. It's during these moments, we have to look for the silver lining in life's trials. Perspective often changes our attitude. Our family keeps a gratitude journal on our kitchen table. We try to record a running list of small gifts for which we're grateful. Many times they're silly, insignificant moments, and other times, they're beautiful reminders of all we have in our lives.

Gratitude is a journey. It isn't a destination; it's a way of life. Thankfulness is stopping long enough to say it or show it and making sure you pause in your busy day to receive it. In abundance, being thankful is an act of beauty, and acknowledging and appreciating the gifts in your life makes you want to give them away.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

Kristen Welch writes at her parenting blog, We are THAT family, and offers an honest mixture of humor and inspiration. She is the author of Don’t Make Me Come Up There and Rhinestone Jesus. In 2010, Kristen, her husband and their three children founded a non-profit maternity home, The Mercy House, to help impoverished teen girls in Kenya.