Updated: Mar 2, 2022
Why do we have to teach kids to be thankful?
As a grandparent of three precious, beautiful, wonderful, amazing, and energetic grandsons, I am relearning some valuable parenting lessons. For example, I am being reminded that thankfulness has to be taught – it is not “caught”. Being thankful is not part of our natural inclination; rather the opposite is typically true in that kids default to the fault of selfishness. I will venture to guess that this is not much of a revelation to most folks (especially to parents and siblings), but it warrants some reflection as we come upon the Thanksgiving season. Why is it so hard to be thankful, especially for young kids (and for the rest of us)?
The New Testament letter written by Jesus’ half-brother James provides some insight into the context surrounding this question. At the end of chapter 3, James identifies two sources of wisdom – one from above, and one from below. The wisdom from below is marked by “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart” (vs 14) and James tells us it is “earthly, natural, demonic” (vs 15). The fruit this wisdom produces is “arrogance” (vs 13) and “disorder and every evil thing” (vs 16). In contrast, the wisdom from above is:
…first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18 (NASB)
Careful readers may notice that the word “thankful” is not mentioned in these verses . The link between James’ discussion of wisdom and the concept of thankfulness is provided by Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome. Look at what he says about those enslaved by the wisdom from below:
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:21 (NASB – emphasis mine)
In a nutshell then, our pride is the enemy of thankfulness. Pride is actually an upside down view of reality – the false perspective that we have no authority over us, that we are the center of our world, in effect that we are God! The ability to give thanks is directly tied to humility. Humility is not self-deprecation or abasement, nor is it a poor self-image. Instead, it is an alignment of one’s perspective with reality – God has authority over all of us, and He expects us to order our priorities in such a way that we give Him and then others preference over ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It is the true perspective of the world and our place in it that makes us truly thankful.
Young kids are not naturally thankful because they have not yet learned that they are not the center of the world! This is excusable of course, and consistent, conscientious parenting can train a child to give thanks when receiving something from others (most of the time). However, good social manners do not represent a true heart of thankfulness, and it is this observation that convicts me.
Am I truly thankful, or am I just “well trained?” According to James and Paul, the answer to that question hinges on my perspective of who God is and what I think of myself in relationship to Him.
Am I humble, or am I proud? From where is my source of wisdom –above or below?
And finally – does the fruit flowering from the soil of my life reflect a sincerely thankful heart?
It turns out that James has some practical advice for us, not only during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, but for the rest of the year as well:
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:6-10 (NASB)
Did you catch that God gives us a “greater” grace when we believers seek a proper perspective? Ultimately He is the author of thankfulness in us if we yield to Him, place ourselves under His authority (submit), and approach Him with an attitude of repentance for our short-comings. Being humble is the key to being thankful. I want to keep that in the forefront of my mind both this Thanksgiving and throughout the rest of the year. Will your family be able to see the same in you?