Real Gratitude

It feels strange and good to write here again after an unexpected “blog-attical.” The truth is, I was weary in both body and soul. I had things to say and share but no “oomph” to get to the keyboard and scrawl something out. And that’s been just fine. After all, I wrote for 31 days straight last month and that left me a wee bit drained.

Like everyone else, I’m thinking about gratitude during this week devoted to the celebration of thankfulness. And as a mom who longs to be somewhat intentional about the virtues of the upcoming holidays, I fight the urge to force gratitude into the hearts of my children and then wrongly assume that something genuinely noble will work its way back out.  

Between preschool and church, my three-year-old has made three thankfulness wreaths in the last three weeks. My older kids gave presentations to their classes last Tuesday about things they’re thankful for. 

My 8-year-old’s list went something like this:

1. a house  
2. CC {our homeschool group}  
3. PS3  
4. iPod Touch  
5. a bed   
6. football  
7. Mommy & Daddy  
8. a TV  
9. God  
10. Church 
{Numbers 9 and 10 came at my urging to write something even remotely virtuous}. 
11. friends  
12. clothes  
13. a toilet  
14. a body  
15. Harry Potter

I’ll be honest, I feel like a failure as a mother when I see PS3’s, iPods, TV, and football making the cut before God and church.

At ages 3, 8, and 10 I’d prefer them to appreciate Jesus over electronics. My husband says they’re simply more honest than we are. He’s right.  

My kids aren’t alone. A friend of mine has been sending me regular updates of her boys’ thankfulness tree additions. They’re hilarious. Their Sharpie-scrawled paper leaves said things like: My DSimy xboxmy brother being quiet, and not having to do school

We are soooo spiritual, she joked. The boys were well into the thanks-giving before Jesus even made the list. 

We can laugh about the tree, but it represents a common lament among mothers. Our kids don’t appreciate the things they should and they worship the things they shouldn’t. We want them not to complain about their dinner when kids in their own community are starving. We want them not to want more and more when they already have so much. 

Misplaced affections are the human condition. Discontent is our default.  

My own sense of real gratitude, budding though it is, has been slow coming. As in just the last couple of years

Noticing the small gifts, celebrating the everyday, knowing that in Christ I already have all things–I was a grown-up for years before good and true things began to matter in any sort of meaningful way. I’m three decades older than my 8-year-old yet I expect him to be further along the path of true thanksgiving than his mother is. 

Daily, I fight for gratitude. And some days I surrender to the trivialities of this world before the day even begins.

As Ann Voskamp says in her book about gratitude, The only way to fight a feeling is with a feeling…We can only experience one emotion at a time. And we get to choose… 

Choosing thankfulness takes practice. And practice takes time. And time is something my kids haven’t had much of yet. And really, they are thankful. I simply judge the objects of their gratitude and in doing so, I heap condemnation on their young hearts and nurture guilt in my own.  

My primary prayer this year has been this: 

God, make the Gospel real to me. Make it work its way down deep so that all of life looks different. May it change the way I live. May it change the way I love. May it change the way I forgive. May it change the affections of my heart. May it change the way I give thanks. May it change the way I sacrifice. May it orient my gaze, moment by moment, to the cross. May gratefulness for Christ and His finished work matter over everything else. 

Deep gratitude for the beauty and power of the Gospel always gives way to grace. And grace gives me compassionate eyes to look at a young boy’s thankfulness list peppered with electronics…and smile at a child’s honesty.

It’s a start. For him and for me.  

I hope and pray that one day gratitude for things that matter will fill their hearts and change their perspective.

But until then I’ll let time and the Spirit do their work. And I’ll nod earnestly and pretend that the Cars 2 video game is indeed something to be thankful for. 


  1. says

    Well said. This is a fantastic post on something we all struggle with – The pursuit of “real” gratitude. And you’re right, “it takes practice.” Blessings!

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