When it comes to lessons in thankfulness, I think my children have taught me the most memorable one.
Two years ago when my wife, Lauren, and I arrived at the hospital for our youngest son to be born, we got some rather startling news: our health insurance had been mysteriously and abruptly canceled by the federal marketplace. We were suddenly slapped with a mountain of medical bills at the same time that my photography and design business was hitting its predictable “off season” slump.
The full spectrum of human emotion was engulfing us - great celebration at the birth of our third child juxtaposed with a gut-wrenching fear of “how will we buy groceries and pay the mortgage?” There was constant stress in dealing with insurance companies and the federal government over the mistaken cancellation of our policy. Every day in that season, I wanted to scream with frustration.
One frigid weekday evening that following January, we needed to get our two older kids out of the house for a bit to give mommy and baby some peace. The kids were 4 ½ and 2 at the time, and the best option I could think of was to scrounge up a few loose dollars, bundle up the kids, and head to Chuck E. Cheese. (This blog is a judgement free zone, people!)
I doled out those game tokens as slowly as I could to prolong the experience. But that tiny cup of coins disappeared in no time. And since two kids under five aren’t super skilled at arcade and carnival games, it soon became quite clear that we would not have enough tickets to claim any prizes at the prize counter.
I crawled on my hands and knees to look under the spaceship ride for any discarded ticket treasure that might add to our loot. And I thought, “well, this is a new low.”
We got in line at the prize counter just as the little boy in front of us - who had apparently been hoarding Chuck E. Cheese tickets his entire life - decided it was time to cash them all in for every toy in the glass display case. We counted up our tickets and it became pretty clear to my little ones that the only two options they had to choose from were a plastic spider ring or a sticker.
As the clerk handed them each their spider rings, I braced myself for the whining and meltdowns that appeared certain when they realized that was all they were going home with.
Instead, their reactions changed my life that day.
Beaming with pride, they both excitedly turned to me to hold up their new prized possessions. “Daddy look it’s a spider! Isn’t that so silly?! I LOVE IT!”
As we zipped up coats and headed back out to our van, I began to cry.
Gratitude, as I learned from my kids that evening, has nothing to do with appreciating HOW MUCH we have. Instead, it’s about finding joy and being thankful for what we DO have, because what we DO have is all an undeserved gift. Comparing our lack with what others might possess leads us toward envy and jealousy. Gratitude and the humility it requires, conversely, leads us toward acknowledging our Heavenly Father, the giver of all good gifts.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon says “Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life. And that’s about it. That’s the human lot. Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 MSG)
A heart of gratitude requires us to make a daily choice - a choice to look at our surroundings and no matter what proclaim that we are grateful for EVERYTHING because it is all a gift from God. Even the sorrow. Even the pain. Even the stress and anxiety. Every emotion, every situation, every circumstance, every story, every material possession, every immaterial idea and thought, every moment, every relationship broken and whole is a gift from our God and our Redeemer.
When we see our world with all blessings flowing from God at the core, that perspective changes everything.
This Thanksgiving, may we all respond with wide-eyed wonder about the “spider rings” in our life, and simple thankfulness for all of our many blessings.
Image Credit: Pro Church Media on Unsplash
Contributing Editor Assist: Diane Moore