Gratitude has never been a natural strength for me. When prompted, I can usually think of something for which I’m thankful, but it seems much more natural to think of things I’m not thankful for. In times of difficulty, that natural response is even stronger. That’s probably why we are commanded in Scripture to “give thanks in everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We have to be told to do it because it’s not natural.
The beauty of this command is that, like all of God’s instructions for us, obeying it leads us to a better life. When I stop and give thanks, my perspective shifts; I start to see things differently and can experience greater joy, even in the worst circumstances.
The first time I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, I was left in awe and disbelief at the way the author described her sister Betsie’s gratitude even in a German concentration camp. One of the most memorable parts of this true story is when Betsie encourages Corrie to be thankful even for the fleas that ravaged their legs and kept them up all night. Corrie says, “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” But Betsie points her sister to 1 Thessalonians 5:18, reminding her to give thanks in all circumstances.
In an amazing turn of events, Betsie and Corrie are given a glimpse into why even the fleas were something to thank God for. He used them to keep the guards out of their room, allowing the sisters to have uninterrupted Bible study with their fellow prisoners.
Perhaps Betsie was a natural at gratitude, but when reading her story, it’s obvious that this was a daily habit and something she had to practice. The same is true of us and is certainly true of our children. Our human nature leads us to complain and doubt God’s goodness far more easily than we thank and trust Him.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to ‘rejoice’ as much as by anything else.” In other words, when we fail to find joy in Christ and to be thankful in Him, we start to look around and complain. We don’t believe He is at work or that He is working things for our good. We spend our time and energy thinking about what we wish was different, rather than finding the things we can be thankful for right where we are.
Practicing gratitude in times of suffering means that while we long for relief our hope is in God, whose wisdom is far beyond our own.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t long for relief from suffering or that we shouldn’t point our children to a more hopeful future. But our hope has to be in the One whose wisdom is far above our own.
Practicing Gratitude with Your Kids
We don’t have to be able to tell our children why bad things happen, other than that we live in a world that is sick with sin and brokenness. But we can point them to the One who is making all things new and encourage them to look for glimpses of that work around them today.
Here are some practical ways to practice gratitude with our children:
Keep a running list in a prominent place. Set a goal to see how quickly you can make it to 100 things.
Go around at dinner and have each person say at least one specific thing they’re thankful for.
Cut out fun shapes from colorful paper and keep them by your child’s door. Have them write (or help them) something new each day and tape it on the door.
Keep “Gratitude Sketchbooks” in which you draw pictures of what you’re thankful for each day.
Ask your kids what ideas they have and involve them in the process of establishing rhythms of gratitude in your home.
Even after just a few days of practicing intentional gratitude in our home, I have noticed a shift in all of our attitudes. Our circumstances haven’t changed, but our perspectives have. We know in this world we will have trouble, but we can take heart and encourage each other with every glimpse that Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Learn more about Betsie Ten Boom in this free download of a chapter from Empowered: How God Shaped 11 Women’s Lives (And Can Shape Yours Too).
Through the stories of 11 women, Empowered will point girls to the origin of their strength and purpose: God. Girls will learn from great women of faith, some they may never have heard of, and will learn from the women the traits and faith of a disciple of Christ. Empowered flips on its head the idea that girls must conquer the world on their own, and instead points them to the life-changing power of their loving Father.
Through the stories of 11 women, Empowered will point girls to the origin of their strength and purpose: God.