As the holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, we consider what we have to be thankful for.  During the month of November many families are thinking about being thankful and how to cultivate thankfulness in their homes.  

But cultivating a home of thankfulness is more than a month of traditions, cute fall decor, or reciting some words around the table. We cannot battle the culture around us of entitlement and self-centeredness with just one month a year. Our practice of thankfulness must come from a deep belief in who God is, what He has done, and who we are. It comes from our worldview but we must cultivate it to grow into a fundamental element of our lives.

True gratitude, true thankfulness comes from a heart that worships God: from one who gives thanks to God, despite the circumstances, despite the challenges, despite the fears, from one whose heart is focused on Him. We cannot force ourselves or our children to be truly thankful. But we can cultivate it by focusing our eyes and hearts on the One who is worthy of all our praise and thanksgiving!

Being ungrateful is at the heart of sin. When we choose to not see God in the daily graces, we sin. When we choose to gripe and complain, we sin. When we choose to look at our circumstances instead of the heights of His love, we sin. “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Adam and Eve sinned because they focused on the one thing they didn’t have, not all the things God did provide for them. The Israelites did the same thing as they wandered in the desert and God provided them with mana: they did not give thanks but griped and complained. Ungratefulness leads to sin, “and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). Gratitude leads to deep praise and satisfaction: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:8-9).

Cultivating thankfulness in your home should not be a one-month-a-year practice. It needs to become a lifestyle of praise unto our God! If you find yourself in a challenging season, where anxiety, fear, and stress want to rage in and engulf you, choosing gratitude may be harder, but it will also be much richer. Gratitude is a daily choice. As Chuck Swindoll said: “We have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”

Choosing gratitude will always be easier when life is easy. Start a family habit of thankfulness when it is easy, and you will find that the hard times are not so hard when you are regularly turning your eyes upward in thanksgiving and praise already. Gratitude keeps your heart tuned to God’s ways and reminds you to trust Him.

Here are some ways to add a gratitude practice to an activity your family already does.  You don’t need to implement them all right away but look for ways throughout the year to engage in these ways with your family.

  1. At the dinner table every night, just like you grew up doing at Thanksgiving dinner, go around and ask everyone to share one thing they are thankful for that day.
  2. Keep a family gratitude journal as part of your family devotion time and thank Him for specific things during your prayers. Each time your family gets to 500 things in your journal, celebrate with some special family time or treat.
  3. Write thank-you notes for all gifts you and your children receive for birthdays, holidays, etc. Teach your children to do this at a young age and it will help battle the entitlement culture we live in.
  4. Teach your young children to say “thank you” for even the smallest service. Model this every day for every small thing in your home.  If you model “thank you” to them, they will learn to say it back to you and others.
  5. Give or serve in your community, especially to those less fortunate than yourselves. A healthy perspective of the challenges of someone else’s life can help us focus on what we are thankful for in our own lives.
  6. When you catch yourself or your child complaining about someone or a circumstance, help turn it around by listing 5 things you appreciate or like about that person or circumstance before you are allowed to complain. You’ll find it is hard to complain when you first turn your heart to gratitude.
  7. Watch a movie or read a book as a family to help your children see how other’s lives are different than their own. Make sure to discuss afterwards how it makes them grateful for something they have in their lives, such as “how does this story make you feel about what God has provided our family?”.
  8. Do a family study on what the Bible has to say about: who God is and what He does and who we are. Take Psalm 23, for example, and note what the passage says about who God is and what He does for us. Notice what the Bible says about who we are.

Thankfulness ultimately comes from a place of knowing who God is and who we are in Christ. Thankfulness to God is part of a biblical worldview! When we remember, in every moment, that we do not deserve the grace we have been given through Christ and how great our God is, all we can do is give Him thanks and praise. And whatever we focus on will continue to grow and shape our worldview. Cultivating a life of gratitude will overflow into more thankfulness and praise to the One to whom we owe it all!