One of the most daunting realities of parenthood is knowing our kids follow our lead. On the one hand, we take joy in the opportunity to guide them. On the other hand, there is an overwhelming, lurking fear of leading by a poor example. When it comes to habits of thanksgiving and an attitude of gratitude, we often come up short. But what if we begin viewing a life of thankfulness as something we can enter into alongside our children? Together we can practice and develop habits of rejoicing in all circumstances. As we do, our children will witness one of the most important examples we can give them: a life dependent on the grace and power of God.
The older our kids grow and the more life they experience, the more opportunity we have to practice the hard work of giving thanks. Gratitude comes easily when circumstances are favorable. But as our kids encounter difficult situations with friends, at school, with family, or with their physical, spiritual, or mental health, gratitude becomes a grind. This is when we can practice helping them identify what is praiseworthy, as Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—think on these things.”
Seeing our kids grappling with a difficult situation, we can prompt their focus with reminders like these:
“I’m really sorry you didn’t get the grade you were hoping for on that paper. You know, though, it’s a blessing we have these opportunities to grow in knowledge and struggle through to overcome a challenge. Every step of learning is a gift.”
“What she said to you was really hurtful. I’m so sorry those words were spoken. They will take a while to heal from. Maybe we can focus on the good things God has created in you — a kind heart, a focused mind, and dedication. Also, we can praise God that He has wiped away every wrong name from us. In Him, we are fully accepted.”
“I wish so badly you could go to that event. I’m sorry it was canceled. I know you’ve been looking forward to it. You know what? Even in disappointments like this, I think it’s good to remain thankful for all the opportunities we have and for the doors God will open for us in the future. He has good plans for us.”
Words hold incredible power to tear down or build up our kids. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue ….” No matter the effort we give to encourage them with powerful, life-giving words, we cannot protect them from the harmful, scarring words they might hear from others. However, we can redeem those hurtful statements. We can encourage our kids to never let a hurtful comment go to waste. Rather than allowing painful words to fester in our spirits, we can rejoice for the reminder to speak good words into this world. Whenever someone says a thoughtless or malicious statement, we can use that as a trigger to speak a word of life. When someone aims to wound us with words, we can turn around and bless another person with words of eternal significance.
Age brings with it a developing sense of how broken and hurting our world is. It’s heart-wrenching watching our kids discover how painful, confused, and ill this world can be. Natural disasters, evil acts, and sickness can leave our kids feeling out of control, anxious, and discouraged. Yet right here in the hard soil of life is where we have the opportunity to sow hope in a sovereign and faithful God. We can remind our kids that although this world is broken by sin, we have a God who is making all things new. He has not left us alone in our mess, even though that’s what we deserve. Instead, He sent His Son to redeem and restore us. So although we deal daily with the consequences of a sin-sick world, we can rejoice in the hope of a God who did not leave us, but gave everything to have us back.
There is an underlying theme in each of these three habits: as we fix our eyes on Jesus, He will turn our hearts to rejoicing. When you or your child is struggling to rejoice, and it feels as though your joy is suffocating beneath the circumstances of life, take time to pray through the following Scriptures and trust God will hone your habits of rejoicing.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7
“Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving ….” Colossians 4:2