The Discipline of Gratitude
In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. – Henri Nouwen
Each year when the Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, we are reminded of our blessings… and often our negligence in thanking God regularly for them. How can we cultivate the discipline of gratitude in our families?
If awareness is key to developing this discipline, we must create opportunities for awareness in our busy lives. Deuteronomy 6 serves as a reminder to the Israelites of what their Mighty God has accomplished for them, and verses 6-9 emphasize how parents can instruct their children in the ways of God – including the discipline of gratitude and remembrance.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
I like to use this passage when I’m brainstorming how to integrate life with God into every aspect of our family’s daily life. Here are some ideas for communally practicing the discipline of gratitude:
When You Sit in Your House
- At mealtimes, encourage each child to share what they are grateful for from the day. Parents can set an example by thanking God for less obvious blessings, maybe even suffering and the spiritual fruits that come from it.
- When I’m sitting quietly with the children, I’ll sometimes focus on one small thing – a flickering candle perhaps – and ask the children what blessings can be found in that one small thing. Then we pray and thank the Giver.
When You Walk by the Way
- When traveling, thank God for safety.
- When active, thank God for the mobility and health of our bodies.
- When in nature, thank God for His beauty reflected in all He has created.
When You Lie Down
- Take advantage of this quiet time at the end of the day to pray with your children. Consider kneeling by the bedside together to emphasize a posture of gratitude.
- Bedtime books focusing on gratitude can help us end the day with thankful hearts. Be sure to check out this list of excellent resources Jackie compiled last year.
When You Rise
- In the chaos of the morning routine, finding time for gratitude can be especially challenging. We like to pray on the drive to school. I’ve found that thanking God for whatever weather we’re experiencing – crisp falling leaves, rain that nourishes our earth – can help us all have a more grateful outlook on the day.
On the Doorposts of Your House
- Create art together to place around your home to prompt gratitude throughout the day. Last year Jackie suggested a Thanksgiving Tree craft that can serve this purpose. A list of fun, helpful art projects and games can be found here.
- Illustrated scripture verses and family photographs can function as daily reminders of God’s good gifts.
May you and your family be blessed as you grow in gratitude together!