One of my girls’ favorite videos was Veggie Tale’s “Madame Blueberry: A Lesson in Thankfulness.” In this video Madame Blueberry thinks she has to fill her house with all kinds of items from “Stuff Mart” in order to be happy. After her house crumbles from the weight of her “stuff” she meets a little boy who has very little, but is happy and content. I’m sure you know the rest of the story. It actually played so much at our house that I can still hear the song “a thankful heart is a happy heart!...”
One of the first things we begin teaching our young children is to say “please” and “thank you” at all times. I so endeavored to teach our girls good manners that before they even had a moment to think, I was in their face saying “What do you say?” “What do you say?” I remember a few times when they would suddenly decide they didn’t want to speak. I would become even more adamant to make them say the "magic words", which resulted in a war of wills, my contorted face and gritted teeth... “I SAID, say thank you!” It’s funny looking back now that they are older - I’m not sure my approach to cultivating thankfulness was anything more than a well-intended effort at behavior management. Don’t get me wrong, manners are super important, but lately I’ve been pondering what really cultivates a genuine attitude of gratefulness in my teenage children (and in us as parents). Teaching them to say “thank you” has its place in early parenting, but as they grow up, we want them to truly live in a place of appreciation and gratitude, not just going through the motions of a learned response.
Let’s face it, haven’t we all just longed to feel appreciated by our kids, like even just once? I, like so many other moms, spend my days running my girls here and there, working to provide for their education and their sports, and simply being FLEXIBLE to every whim they text me with! I have tried the pity party, tried the guilt, and I have used the same cliches you have referring to underprivileged kids in other countries. News flash! It isn’t working...
Matthew 12:34 reminds us “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” While I would love to manage my girls' attitudes with some kind of remote control...it all starts in the heart. I believe God showed me two specific enemies we battle in our culture today that hinder having heart of gratitude. These enemies are performance and entitlement. Let me clarify when I talk about “performance.” I am not talking about diligence and hard work. God’s word says “Whatever you do, do well.” (Ecc. 9:10) The “performance” I’m referring to is that elusive voice that tells us what we do is who we are. It fights to tell us our worth and value are completely tied up in what we achieve, earn, are recognized for and defined as on the “invisible ranking system.” The other enemy, “Entitlement” says we deserve and should get everything we want. We believe we are “owed something"... others owe us, we owe ourselves, or God owes us. Bottom line: The enemies of performance and entitlement work in tandem to keep us as believers in a constant state of discontentment and wanting more. This place of dissatisfaction is the very opposite of what Paul writes to his young minister in 1Timothy 6:6 “But Godliness with CONTENTMENT is great gain.” I love how Matthew 5:5 reads in the Message: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are--no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
Cultivating true contentment in our own lives and helping our children to find that same contentment in God is the very foundation of having a genuine heart of gratitude.
Ephesians 2:4-9 says “But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” We and our children can rest from the striving and struggling of performance to feel forgiven, accepted and worthy. We can find that inward contentment by receiving God’s free gift of righteousness in Christ Jesus.
One of my favorite scriptures written about Jesus is found in Philippians 2:6-8: “(Jesus), being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” We ourselves can also break free from the enemy of entitlement by fixing our eyes on Jesus and asking God to give us a proper and healthy estimation of ourselves.
My prayer is that our entire NCCS community would genuinely be touched by God’s overwhelming love for each of us. May we meditate on His great act of kindness toward us and may it spur us and our children to a new genuine place of gratitude that is content to simply walk with Him and answer His call on our life. We are truly not our own, we were bought with a price to bring glory to God.