MAY 31, 2017 Devotional: “Authentic Gratitude”

One day last week, I was able to break away from my office in the South Park area of Charlotte, and head home to grab a bite to eat.  Besides being fortunate to live less than 10 minutes away from my work, it’s generally more cost effective to eat some leftovers at home, rather than to eat out around the South Park Mall.

But that particular day, I had another reason to go home.  It was a fairly steady rainstorm and I was a little concerned for our three, one-month old baby chicks who we had recently introduced to life as “free-ranging chickens” on the family compound.  I was worried they might not have figured out how to get back to the covered area of the chicken coop since they had been exploring the entire backyard.  Sure enough, with limited visibility in the storm, they we somewhere lost.  I walked around the yard with an umbrella and finally found them, all three huddled beneath a bush, wet, probably cold, and somewhat scared by this previously unknown “thing” called “rain”.

I put down the umbrella, quickly scooped up two of the three, while the third chick got the idea to follow me since I had her sisters.  They actually seemed a little bit grateful when they quickly remembered and realized their dry “home” back at the chicken coop.

At some point, I’m sure I’ll be less worried about the baby chicks as I am lately.  For now, I still need to guide them and make a lot of their decisions for them.

If you’ve got kids, then maybe you’ve experienced the same kind of decisions and actions.

As I drove back to the my office, the rain had subsided (finally), but my mind was still racing.  I was hung up on that word…..grateful.  Sure they were only one-month old chickens, but they showed what I would consider to be “authentic gratitude”.  We can learn a lot from animals.

But for us humans, what’s the real lesson here?

I found an interesting article written in the Huffington Post later that day that talked about how we can teach our children to be grateful.  But before we can talk about the “how”, we need to understand the “why” as it relates to “gratitude”.

Studies have shown that cultivating an attitude of gratitude can increase happiness levels by 25 percent.  (Dr. Robert A. Emmons, University of California – Davis)  That same study revealed that gratitude leads to happier lives, greater satisfaction in our lives, and increased levels of self-esteem, hope and optimism.

Pretty good stuff, right?

As adults, I think we “get that”…and hopefully, with practice showing gratitude.

But what about our kids?  It’s probably a harder pill for them to swallow.

I’m constantly torn between wanting to give my boys everything in the world, to other days where I want them to realize how grateful they should be.  Most parents I know, say the same thing.  And it’s not as easy as dropping our kids off into an impoverished area of the city, have them observe activities for the day, and then assume they’ll come home afterwards feeling “grateful”.

Nope…not that easy.

That same Huffington Post article listed out 11 ways that parents can teach their children to show authentic gratitude.  I won’t list out all eleven.  However, three are worth mentioning.

First, look for teachable moments.  It’s one thing to lecture our children about “being grateful”.  It’s another to call out real-life examples that illustrate the point.  Keep your eyes open for these unique teachable moments.

Next, keep thank-you notes on hand.  My mom will love this one.  So will my sister.  Sadly, the art of sending a well thought out, hand-written letter of “thanks” has become a dying skill.  I, too, have written fewer and fewer hand written notes over the years.  Most families that do have their kids send hand-written notes, focus on birthdays and Christmas.  That’s fine.  But there are other opportunities to relate genuine gratitude to coaches, teachers, and other people who are helping our kids out.  Recently, I wrapped up leading a group of 8 boys where I had been their Cub Scout den leader for the past 4 years.  At the annual “Blue and Gold” banquet, where the 8 boys were graduating from Cub Scouts, one parent presented me with a nice card signed by all the boys that said “thank you”.  There was a $100 Starbucks gift card that I surely liked as well!  But one boy, came up to me a few minutes later, when no one else was around, and gave me a hand-drawn, hand-written card that simply said “thanks”.  The first card was valued at $100….the second one was priceless.

Finally, we should show our kids that gratitude is linked to a Higher Power.  To the extent possible, our children should see the bond between “prayer” in the spiritual sense, and gratitude.  Church services can provide a sense of community and the old standard of “counting our blessings”….literally.

Now, why am I saying all this and what does it have to do with a weekly devotional?

Two weeks ago, my wife and I attended the Charlotte Habitat for Humanity charity benefit called the “Blue Jean Bash”.  We’ve all been to many charity events and for the most part, they’re all the same.  Watch a video, bid on silent auction items, listen to some speeches, and (hopefully) make a donation.

Sound familiar?

And at the “Blue Jean Bash” there certainly was some of those activities that took place.

For me, I was moved by the testimonies by two of the Charlotte Habitat board members.  The two men spoke separately, but their stories both recalled growing up in Habitat homes here in Charlotte.  Both men had the cards stacked against them from the start.  Today, both men are extremely successful businessmen, but both trace the roots of their success to the Habitat homes their families earned through the Habitat program.

If you know anything about Habitat for Humanity, then hopefully you realize that homes are not simply given away to homeowners.  Perspective recipients must complete an extensive application, participate in 300 hours of community service, and even work on the construction of their own homes.

While both men’s speeches were moving and emotional….both communicated genuine gratitude and traced everything positive from the result of receiving homes.  It’s the ripple effect of all ripple effects.

In Colossians 2, we read:

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Col. 2:7

Today, my prayer is that we not only teach our youth about being grateful, but in doing so, we remind ourselves of doing the same.