Last month, we celebrated a national holiday specifically set aside for being grateful. That fourth Thursday in November is eagerly anticipated as a time when good food, family, football, and a sense of our nation’s history all come together. Many of us have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving Days of the past, and we look forward to the ones to come. Even if we have to spend half our time cooking, it’s easy to be grateful on such a happy, fun day. After all, that’s what we’re supposed to do that day – be thankful to our Creator for our blessings.
But what about the other 364 days of the year? Do we need to feel grateful on those days, too? The obvious answer is “yes.” Do we succeed in having a thankful attitude, maintaining it in our hearts and making it apparent to others? And are we teaching our children to be appreciative of “every good and perfect gift” that they have been given by God (James )? There are plenty of passages in the Bible that instruct us to be thankful (e.g., Psalm 100:4; Colossians 3:15), yet we know that we fail in this many times – instead of gratitude, we display impatience or bitter disappointment when things aren’t as we think they should be.
Luke tells the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed on His way to
(-19). Of the ten, only one – a Samaritan – came back to thank Jesus for ridding him of the deadly disease of leprosy. Jesus asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” Jesus must have been dismayed that the Jewish men among the group were not more appreciative of the great gift of renewed life they had been given. We see that lack of gratitude is not a problem that is unique to our culture, our society, or our time. And it can often stem from materialism: from desiring to have too much than is necessary for us to have. Jerusalem
The life of the average American is one of relative luxury when compared with the lives of most of the people of the world. I was not wholly aware of this until I spent some years living in
Eastern Europein the mid-1990s. Before leaving the to begin teaching English in US , I spent a few weeks getting organized for the transition. In my imagination, I was already there, living in a picturesque little village with lots of flowers and cows. When I arrived in my new home, it was dark. But in the morning – and in the days, weeks, and months to follow -- I was shocked to see just how drastically wrong my preconceived ideas had been. Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria
My apartment house had broken-out windows. My bathroom was crawling with roaches, and the kitchen tap sometimes ran with black water. My telephone was connected to a gaping hole in the wall by a single exposed wire. Homeless cats and dogs roamed the streets, and people rummaged with long sticks through the dumpster outside my window. At a medical clinic, my blood was once drawn through a tube with a human mouth sucking at the other end of it. People canned fruit, beat rugs, and killed chickens outside, along the sidewalks. The school “library” consisted of a few books stacked beside the secretary’s desk, and the tiny copy machine – locked away on the top floor of the derelict building we shared with another school – appeared to be for emergency use only. The white substance I used on the cracked chalkboards crumbled in my hands when I tried to post lesson material, and the tattered communist-era paperback textbooks that I was supposed to teach from contained anti-American literature. The electricity both at school and at my apartment was constantly being turned off, making it impossible at times to conduct class (sometimes we had class at night) or grade papers and make lesson plans at home.
There were Christians meeting in the capital city of
, led by American evangelist Joe Rose. He and his wife, Juline, kindly invited me to spend the night with them when I came into the city on the weekends for worship services. I so well remember that first Friday when I headed to the train station to travel to Sofia . The tiny ticket window, behind which sat a surly clerk, was absolutely mobbed with Roma (often called “gypsies”), and I decided I’d better press forward with the rest of the crowd or risk not getting a ticket. Sofia
Out on the platform, a similar scenario unfolded when the train pulled in, with more people than the train should have been carrying cramming themselves into each car. Again, I decided I’d better hop to it, or I wouldn’t be going to
that day. I found a spot beside the door to one of the cars, and I stood or crouched there for about two hours until we reached the city of Sofia , where most of the gypsies got off. Although more than ten years have passed, I recall that train ride clearly, because during much of it I was wondering if I could possibly get out of the teaching contract that I had signed. How soon could I go home and get away from here? Plovdiv
I completed my first year of teaching and returned home for a couple of months off during the summer, and I found that my eyes had changed. My heart had changed. During that one school year, I had learned infinitely more than I would have been able to teach in twenty years’ time. Because of political events beyond their control, college-educated, professional Bulgarian men and women were making $50 per month and could not afford some of the basic necessities of life. Most of my students’ parents were factory workers, and they were out of work altogether, with both their present and future looking very grim indeed. Inflation was out of control – I remember taking a bus ride to nearby Haskovo one afternoon, and by the time I was ready to return to my city a couple of hours later, the price had risen twenty leva or so. Do we think life becomes more complicated for us when our gas prices rise quickly? Yes, it does, but try making it when the prices of everything from bread to electricity rise so high, so quickly, that you cannot possibly keep up. This was the plight of many Bulgarians in the 1990s.
During my two years in
, I was met with constant problems and frustrations. Yet, I knew that at the end of my time there, I was coming home to the Bulgaria , a stable, wealthy country. I made it through hardships because I knew they were only temporary. I am grateful for the experience because it taught me gratitude the way nothing else could have. I also learned that I can make do and be happy with less. I am trying to pass those lessons on to my children, young though they are. Part of our responsibility as Christian parents is steering our children away from materialism and toward humble appreciation for what we do have. United States
Our sons and daughters may not understand how incredibly blessed they are to be living in the
. They may not understand how grateful they should be for the everyday luxuries that they take for granted – things like central heating, cars, drinkable water, and iPods. They may deliberately ignore or make light of the role God plays every day in providing to them the things they need to stay alive. How many times have we seen a stage show, movie, or television program during which a character offers a sarcastic “prayer” of thanks to God, while claiming the credit for doing all of the work needed to get the things he’s supposedly thankful for? We must teach our children better than that. They need to understand that God is due our constant, sincere gratitude (Ephesians ; Hebrews ). United States
Just as we designate one day a year as the official time for “thanksgiving,” we can fall into the trap of just being thankful to God on the first day of the week, when we assemble with other Christians to worship Him. How can we make being thankful a permanent, ingrained part of our children’s character, and not just something we mention in a prayer once or twice a day? A starting place could be outlawing excessive complaining, whining, and criticizing in our homes. Within reason, we should have little tolerance for those things from our children, and from ourselves (Colossians 4:6; Proverbs -21, ).
My seven-year-old daughter and I have been reading Pollyanna (by Eleanor H. Porter) together at night before she goes to bed. The story concerns an eleven-year-old orphan who goes to live with her Aunt Polly, a stern woman who disapproves of the happy, high-spirited child. Pollyanna overcomes the heartaches and disappointments in her life by playing the “just being glad game.” She takes the problems and inequities she encounters and turns them around by finding something in them to be glad or thankful about. It became a game that she played without even thinking about it, amazing the people around her with her positive, optimistic attitude.
and discussing this story has provided my daughter and me with some valuable points for discussion and, I hope, some ideas for getting rid of the whining and complaining that had begun cropping up in our household. Reading
Not too many of us have the opportunity to live or travel abroad. We can’t all see for ourselves just how grateful we should be for what we have at home. Those who have gotten off the tour buses in places like
and India Africacould tell their own stories of the deprivation experienced by so many. But the Word of God speaks to us from cover to cover with the message of how important it is to give thanks, and we don’t have to travel anywhere to hear that message. We just have to open our Bibles, read what God has told us and done for us, and – like the one man out of ten who had been healed of leprosy – remember to give heartfelt thanks to “the Rock of our salvation” every single day of the year (Psalm 95:1).
Lydia [Humphries] Casey is a homemaker with three small daughters. Her husband, Evan, preaches for the Crestwood church of Christ in Crestwood, Kentucky. Before her marriage she worked in radio broadcasting and teaching, both in the US and abroad. She graduated from Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in English and Allied Language Arts. She was Evan’s “help meet” in Hungary for two years (1999-2001) while he was preaching and teaching the gospel there. Their residence was in Budapest. If you wish to communicate with her, you may do so by addressing your remarks to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.