Thanksgiving is a time to pause, take a deep breath, count our blessings and express our gratitude.
We spend time with family, eat delicious food, kick off the Christmas holiday season, watch football and engage in any number of personal family traditions.
Perhaps this year, more than in others in recent memory, I am more cognizant of the need to give thanks.
However, I think something we need to consider as we are leading the next generation of citizens, is that gratitude is not limited to a spoken “thank you” or a special day.
Gratitude is a way of life – a continual living into an awareness of the blessings we have and the grace we are given each and every moment of the day.
Simply put, gratitude is a life of awe. It’s a place where we are very aware of the incredible life we are given, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. It’s more than an attitude or a platitude – it’s a state of being.
Often, our children miss out on awe. Their lives are fast-paced and hurried. They shuffle from one activity to the next, one distraction to the next, one practice to the next and that sense of awe and wonder gets lost in the noise.
I fear that a constant lack of awe leads to a lack of gratitude and a growth of entitlement.
When we aren’t aware of the greatness of our blessings, we assume that our blessings are our rights and we behave in ways that are more greedy than gracious, more demanding than grateful.
Here are three ways that we can help our kids learn to live a life of awe:
1. We can stop.
For a moment, for a breath, we can stop. Stop the car. Stop the conversation. Stop the running. Stop for just a moment and look up, look out and look around.
My kids love to make fun of me because I will pull the car off on the side of the road to get a picture of the sky.
They make fun of me, but they also look up a lot – at stars, at clouds, at sunrises and sunsets – and they are in awe of our Creator. And that leads to thanksgiving. So, let’s stop for a just a moment, when our kids are watching, and live into awe.
2. We can go.
One thing that hinders gratitude is an introspective life that is focused inward on self.
A.W. Tozer once shared, “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.”
Showing and offering gratitude leads us to look not to self, but to others. When we are aware of our blessings, we want to extend those blessings to those around us.
There is something amazingly precious about our children watching us serve others and joining us in that work. It leads to a distinct awareness of just how blessed we really are.
3. We can speak.
My favorite hashtag on social media is #speaklife. It is used to share all manner of uplifting and powerful messages of life-giving hope.
Gratitude isn’t just about saying, “thank you,” it’s about speaking life into situations where hopelessness and darkness encroach and try to steal, kill and destroy hearts and lives. It’s the antithesis of grumbling and complaining.
Gratitude says there is hope, and if our children need to hear anything today, it’s that there is hope – unending, never-failing hope.
As we look around at the world around us and see the things that hurt our hearts and weigh heavy on our spirit, let’s cultivate a new approach within ourselves – an approach that stops, goes and speaks with heartfelt gratefulness and genuine thanksgiving, an approach that leads to a sense of awe and wonder.
To do so is to follow the imperative found in Colossians 3:17. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Christina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on her website, Refocus Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @EmbreeChristina.
A church planter with Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, she is a graduate of Wesley Seminary with a Master of Arts degree in ministry focusing on family, youth and children’s ministry.