When my husband and I first got married, we were rich in things and short on cash. We had plenty of clothes and two great cars thanks to our parents’ generosity all our lives and plenty of household items thanks to our friends’ and families’ generosity through wedding gifts.
But not having a lot of disposable income taught us that there was a lot more to life than stuff. We survived just fine on PB&J’s and canned soup. And when our first anniversary came around, the simple spaghetti dinner that my husband cooked meant more than eating at a fancy restaurant.
So when our first child was born, we, like many parents, wanted the best for him. But our fervent prayer, as we were once again blessed by the generosity of family and friends was this – May our child have everything he needs and only some of what he wants. May he have to save up for some things and learn to be satisfied and happy with what he already has.
So as my son sat busily circling things in the Toys ‘R Us catalog that came in the mail, I wondered how I could help him learn what I’ve learned, even in the middle of one of the most consumeristic times of the year. It’s important to me, because this season is really about God and God’s generosity in giving God’s own Son to be our Savior.
I don’t have it all figured out and there are plenty of other areas where I struggle, but here are some things we’re going to try to teach our children to live the Grateful Life rather than the greedy one.
1) Be a gratitude role model. I have to live what I preach, even at home. In my prayer life, I count my blessings. Saying these blessings out loud can reinforces this type of modeling. “I’m so happy you are in my life.” “I’m so grateful to have good friends.” “Your Dad is the best Dad in the world.”
2) Give thanks. Children of all ages can write or draw a picture of the things they are thankful for. Some grown-ups call this a blessing journal. Or start a simple bedtime ritual of asking what your child is grateful for each day.
3) Treat others with kindness. In these busy, crazy times of social networking and little connection to real people, it’s important to be present in the moment whether that means letting someone merge on the highway or holding the door open. Saying “thank you” is a first step. Rudeness toward others speaks of entitlement – that others are not as important and are in our way.
4) Take action. Recently the librarian at my son’s school fell and broke her hip. When we got home, I asked him if he’d like to make her a “get well” card. He was delighted! He got busy with stickers and markers, then helped me mail it. Simple acts are great ways to share joy and nurture gratitude.
5) Keep it simple. I’m guilty of wanting to take my firstborn to every class and special event. I want him to experience everything! But when we take our walks around the neighborhood, I’m reminded that any moment can be special if you take the time to be present. When we focus on people, relationships, or the wonder of creation, it’s easy to find awe and gratitude.
6) Talk about the world. It’s easy to get frustrated when my child asks “why?” for the 200th time in the day. But even as I’m in the midst of changing brother’s diaper, cooking dinner, answering the phone, and who knows what else, I try to respond to my son’s honest curiosity. Why rain is important to the earth, where our food comes from, and all the other things that are important to our family. I want him to be able to see the world from outside his four-year-old shoes because our gratitude grows when we’re able to understand the other side of things.