Guest post from Ashley Hales of Circling the Story!
I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but every year I get sucked into Pinterest in November. It’s pages of DIY galore with trees and thankfulness and sparkles and tablescapes and food. It’s beautiful and inspiring and…overwhelming.
Because I know that I’m never going to have a thankful tree untouched by grabby, sticky hands. I see all the glossy images and want that, feeling like they could the key to savoring the season, but my reality is far different. It’s feeding children, policing arguments and helping with homework and feeding the baby.
And I wonder, how can we create thankfulness even in the midst of the mess? With so many pressures on our time, how do we slow down to be thankful in real ways? Even if we just keep pinning the DIY holiday wreaths and gratitude journals, but never get around to making them, how do we cultivate gratitude?
Because underneath the DIY craftiness, I want to create a culture of thankfulness for my family. I want my 7-year-old to respond empathetically rather than defending himself. I want my toddler to learn what it means to say “thank you” at meal times, not because I want to be acknowledged for my work in the kitchen, but rather because I want my children to grow up into thankful adults.
I want them to practice having grateful hearts. I pray it would become natural and normal for them to really see people and acknowledge their worth – that is, after all, the heart of gratitude: acknowledging another’s humanity.
Ann Voskamp writes in her oft-quoted book on thankfulness, One Thousand Gifts,
“We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace” (39). Simply, thankfulness is how we respond to grace.
So how do we practice thankfulness? How might gratitude change us in daily ways – like when we’re late and the traffic lights keep turning red? Or when our children don’t listen or refuse to go to bed? Or when it’s been ages since you’ve slept for a solid chunk of time, or had a date night, or even a shower? And how can our daily actions transform our hearts so that we have hope when we get the diagnosis or we hear about atrocities half-way around the world?
Below are just a few daily ways to begin to create a culture of thankfulness in your home. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect to be beautiful and useful. The small daily postures we make to create thankfulness add up over a lifetime to create a habit of gratitude. So we can thank God amidst the hard, whatever that “hard” might be — from cancer, to an argument, to needing a full night’s sleep. We can’t legislate thankfulness (“be thankful or else!”) but we can practice it and model it for those closest to us.
Write down your thanks. It doesn’t have to be on leaf-shaped colored paper, but it has been found that actually writing down your gratitude helps to begin to ingrain it in your heart. I would love to make time to create memories that are crafty and beautiful, but I’m learning that being perfect is not the goal.
As a family, each night in November that we remember to (see – not perfect), we cut up strips of computer paper and each member writes out their thanks and puts it in a container. On Thanksgiving Day, we read them all out loud. It helps to hear again and again all the reasons we have to be thankful. Our kids get in on the action by writing if they can, or drawing (if they can’t), and even scribbling on slips of paper; the point is they’re welcome and invited to be a part of giving thanks.
Share your daily story around the table. Creating thankfulness means that we really see another person, and this is where story comes in, in the listening. Find a time for your family to really share your stories with one another and begin to make it a habit. For us, we share the best parts of our day around the dinner table. Other families do a high/low moment recap at the end of the day.
Some also have a set of questions they ask as they put their kids to bed. Whenever and however you choose isn’t the most important thing; but, asking specific questions to each family member allows space for real stories to bubble up and find a safe place in your home. Being vulnerable with one another takes practice and making your home a safe place for hard moments is how God changes our hearts to be thankful amidst life’s stressors and suffering.
Make a game of saying “thank you.” This is something that is so easy to forget and overlook with our hectic lives with sports schedules and making sure your kids have done their homework. But I’m trying to really make sure I stop doing the dishes, get down on my child’s level, give them eye contact, and say thank you. We try to make it a game. We count up how many times we can say thank you to another family member. We act silly and ask our kids questions about what is and isn’t deserving of thanks; by making them laugh, they feel involved, connected and are more apt to want to make a practice of saying “thank you.”
Thankfulness is an attitude of the heart, and a posture where we bend towards another person to really see them. But it’s also something that can grow. Saying thank you is just the beginning towards building a life of response to others, and ultimately to respond graciously to the One who deserves all our thanks.
Ashley Hales blogs at Circling the Story, where she writes about faith, vulnerability and finding beauty in the chaos. She’s wife to a pastor, mama to four little ones, and holds a Ph.D. in literature.