Your desire to impart an attitude of gratitude to your children is a precious gift you are giving them for the long haul of their lives. Gratitude is a spiritual practice, which reaps love, joy, compassion and hope as its fruits.
A good place to begin with your children is to read them the story of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19. The 10 were cured by Jesus, fully restored! A miracle! All 10 must have been made indescribably ecstatic by the healing of their bodies and the restoration of their personal dignity. They were no longer the outcasts, the untouchables. We can only imagine the joy they must have felt. Yet, only one came back to thank Jesus, but that one leper who did, received an even greater gift: the valuable human capacity to appreciate the goodness of his life.
An attitude of gratitude doesn’t come naturally to most of us (we are the nine other lepers!), but we can cultivate it. We can give it opportunities to grow.
Gratitude is a dose of mental sunshine. The more we are thankful, the more light we experience in our lives, and the more we shine forth love and goodness into the world. (Remember, we are not to hide our light under a bushel basket.)
Questions for Christ
may be sent to her at Catholic Herald Parenting, P.O. Box 070913, Milwaukee, 53207-0913 or by e-mail.
Gratitude requires a certain open-heartedness. It takes courage, really. It requires trust in the goodness of other people, in the goodness at the core of our being, and in the Divine Plan which is a plan for good. All of this is not to deny pain, which is real and part of the Paschal Mystery (the curriculum here in earth school).
We suffer, sometimes terribly and inexplicably so. We take that suffering to the foot of the cross, opening ourselves to the transformation of God’s healing love and mercy. Being grateful is not to deny pain, but it is a choice not to cling to pain and suffering. Gratitude is leaning toward the light, believing that God takes even the worst of our human experience and transforms it into new life. Even our sin.
Teach your children to consciously thank the people who serve them every day: their teachers, the lunch ladies, the crossing guard, the cashier at the grocery store, and the members of your family.
As a family, keep a daily gratitude journal. As part of your meal grace or before retiring at night, ask each family member to name something from their day for which they are grateful. Some days we are grateful that a long, hard day has ended, and that God will be up all night untangling our tangles.
Have each family member keep a small box for collecting the blessings of his/her life, written on slips of paper. It is said we should, “Gather the crumbs of happiness to make a loaf of contentment.” Open your boxes on “gray days” of discontent to remember how truly blessed you are.
When you are enjoying something thoroughly and feeling thankful to be enjoying it, send the positive energy of that moment to someone in need.
I recommend the book “Attitude of Gratitude,” by M.J. Ryan for more ideas, and finally, “Watch carefully then how you live…giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5: 15a, 20)
(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke,” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)