Our church has a tradition every Thanksgiving. It isn’t anything spectacular or earth shattering; we simply stand up and say what we are thankful for. That Sunday is my favorite day of the year. It isn’t about the meal we share afterwards–although a Baptist potluck Thanksgiving meal is just about the best food you will ever eat– it’s about the feeling of gratitude.
A few years ago, I told my husband I wanted to start sharing what we are thankful for every night at dinner. We decided we would all share two things each day. My youngest son started us off, saying “I’m thank you for…”, and my heart melted. We didn’t even try to correct him. Sometimes my boys are thankful for the tacos on their plate, other times they are thankful for a house to live in. Sometimes I have to do a lot of soul searching to verbalize anything meaningful, especially if I’m feeling less than gracious after a frustrating or difficult day at work. But regardless of my circumstances, I find two things to thank God for. If I can find just two things to be grateful for, life can’t be all that bad.
I’ve come to think of it as a discipline. I don’t want to skip saying what I’m thankful for just because I don’t feel like it. I want my children to see that it is important. We teach our boys Bible verses about giving thanks. They have memorized Philippians 4:4, which says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” and Psalm 138:1, “I will give you thanks with all my heart”. I can’t just teach them the verses without practicing what I preach.
It’s hard being a parent when you feel like nothing is good enough for your children. I struggle when I provide for my kids and they complain. I want them to be truly thankful for the gifts they’re given and see how abundantly blessed we are. The dinner time “thank you” isn’t a magical fix for this, but it certainly is a practice I intend to cultivate.
I love when friends and family come over for dinner, because we are able to hear what they are thankful for as well. It is fun to share our rituals with others. The boys get excited to hear new responses and to share their expressions of gratitude.
There are nights when one child might proclaim he is thankful for nothing. (I never said it was perfect!) My husband and I roll our eyes and either stifle a laugh over the drama or hold in a lecture– not at the dinner table. We try to gently offer suggestions. What did you have for lunch today? Who did you play with? Can you thank God for your friends? Your teacher? Can you be thankful you aren’t being sent to time out right now?
My hope is to teach them to see God in all things. No matter our circumstances, we can thank God for loving us and providing for our needs. I want them to notice God’s hand in our lives and see the good in each day. I find myself preparing throughout the day. When something good happens, I store it in my mind for later. My husband is the best at thinking outside the box. I am always amazed at what he can be thankful for.
Our lives can be busy and chaotic. We don’t end up around the dinner table each and every night. Sometimes our dinner is in the car or at the baseball field. Sometimes we find ourselves at a restaurant. The good news is we can be thankful anywhere. It is a portable ritual. If we forget, we can express gratitude before bedtime. Most of the time, one of the boys will remind us. We certainly aren’t perfect. Our thank yous often come out under our breaths or as an afterthought. But we keep saying them, remembering it’s called a practice for a reason. It’s a small thing, but when we are thankful in the small things, we learn how important they truly are.