Tuesday, June 4, 2013

On instilling genuine gratitude

Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want my children to be when they grow up. Not vocationally, but from a character standpoint. And of the time I spend in those thoughts, the bulk tends to be larger or more complex attributes. I realize I myself half to walk this path if I expect them to do so. But sometimes that grand-scale pondering — especially when it focuses on the younger or unborn kid — obscures a far more obvious ideal, something we could be working on right now.

One such notion is illustrated in this story of Jesus. What will it take for me to make sure my kid would be the one to return and say thank you? I try to lead by example, by being polite (but not patronizing) whenever possible. I make sure to encourage the kids to say thank you whenever someone has done something for them, especially if they have been guests for a dinner or party. We wrote out thank you cards for our Christmas gifts this year, though the kids mostly just scribbled their names.

There are varying degrees of success. Charlie is pretty good about giving me a “fanks” when I get food ready for him, but he doesn’t really respond well to the prompt when it relates to other people. Jack mostly views politeness as a chore, though genuine gratitude is not beyond his grasp. As the most verbal, Max is the most likely to give thanks without prompting, but as a five-year-old, he’s still prone to taking adults for granted.

The challenge, it would seem, is for me to inspire a genuine attitude of graciousness instead of merely eliciting a compulsory “thank you” as some sort of conditioned response and nothing more. The goal is to raise children who are genuinely aware of what other people do for them in life and are able to clearly express gratitude for the kindness of others.

The other day as Jack and I drove up to the Scout camp, we dropped off a package for Kristie at the post office. I sent Jack in to make the quick drop. On his way back out, I noticed he held the door for someone on their way in. It was a fairly simple gesture, small enough it’s reasonable to expect any nine-year-old would have done the same thing. But the truth is third-graders aren’t exactly wired to see the world from another’s point of view. They can get away with avoiding certain societal conventions because they’re still “just kids” and not yet stereotypical rude teenagers.

Yet as I watched from the car, the pride began to swell. There he was, doing exactly what I hoped he would do — what I’d ask him to do if I was standing right there — and it was clear to me he never thought of doing anything but waiting a few extra seconds to make sure a complete stranger got into the building with ease. The gesture itself isn’t what lifted my spirits, it was the idea we’re raising the kind of young man who is not only capable but almost intrinsically inclined toward such kindness.

As usual, the other component for me to consider is the content of my own heart. Am I sincerely grateful or superficially polite? Am I aware of everyone who contributes to my way of life and appropriately expressing my thankfulness? Am I doing a good job of taking stock of my blessings and heaping praise on God, the giver of all good things? I try. I do not always succeed, but I try. And when I fail, I apologize and try again. One of my biggest blessings is God’s patience with me. I’m not sure I can ever say thank you enough for that one.

A prayer for June 4:

Lord, all blessings flow from you. Everything good in my life is easily traced back to you as the source. Thank you so much for all of the important people with whom I have been able to develop relationships. Help me return to them the value of the love and care they show for me, and further help me be a living testament to your grace. Show me ways to fully express my gratitude for how your love has changed me, and please open my children’s eyes, ears, hearts and mind in the same manner. May be always be a thankful family. Amen.

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