Cultivating Gratitude in the Heart of a Child
About the Guest
Can thankfulness be taught? Ever Thine Home creator, Barbara Rainey, encourages parents to intentionally cultivate gratefulness in their families. Barbara suggests doing this by prompting family members to share what they're thankful for, referencing Bible verses on thankfulness, and encouraging heart-felt conversation.
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Can thankfulness be taught? Barbara Rainey encourages parents to intentionally cultivate gratefulness in their families.
Cultivating Gratitude in the Heart of a Child
Bob: Are your kids as grateful as they ought to be? Maybe, they need to be hiding God’s Word in their heart. Here’s Barbara Rainey.
Barbara: One of the easiest to memorize is “Give thanks in all things,”—
1 Thessalonians 5:18. It’s very easy for even a three-year or a four-year-old to memorize. It’s just as important for the 18-year-old and the adult because that’s a pretty comprehensive verse. When you stop and think about it—giving thanks in all things—that is never going to run out in anybody’s life.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 6th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Thanksgiving is more than just a day on a calendar. It is a commandment from God that we be thankful. We’ll talk about how we cultivate that in our own hearts and in our families today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We’ve been talking this week about the fact that there’s a big holiday coming up this month—and that we ought to pay attention, we ought to make memories, we ought to help our kids embrace gratitude as a way of life / be thankful. The reality is—everything we are talking about is not going to happen unless we have a little intentionality about this.
Dennis: That’s exactly right, and you know why?
Dennis: Because there has been a robbery. There has been a robbery—
Bob: Okay? What’s been taken?
Dennis: —of Thanksgiving from families. Families are not thankful. What they need to realize is—and I just wrote some of them down—and by the way, welcome to the broadcast, Sweetheart—Barbara joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Barbara: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Dennis: All of our listeners are glad you are here. You add a lot of credibility and reality to this broadcast—not that Bob and I don’t have either, but you add more. [Laughter]
Barbara: I’m an eyewitness; right?
Dennis: Yes. So, here are some of the robbers of Thanksgiving in our families—the first one—pace. You think that robs a lot of families?—just the sheer busyness of life.
Bob: Now, are you talking about things that rob the holiday or things that rob the attitude of Thanksgiving?
Dennis: I’m talking about—
Barbara: The attitude.
Dennis: It’s the attitude; but frankly, it also robs the holiday too.
Bob: You’re just saying that the constant pace of life—the speed at which we are running—we forget to be grateful.
Dennis: Most families are running flat-out. In fact, we look at our five married children—look at their schedules—remarkable. Second one, neglect—we just neglect to make thankfulness a part of our everyday lives. As a result, we take each other for granted.
Third—this is the human heart here—greed, jealousy, envy, discontent. It’s our nature to be critical / to be fault-finding, to grumble—
—like we talked earlier—to dispute / to gripe. These robbers are coming at families, left and right. What we have to do is find a way to seize the holiday—and not merely the holiday—but to make thanksgiving a part of the DNA of our families.
Bob: One of your children was asked one time how he would describe you in a single word. You know the story I’m talking about; right?
Dennis: I do.
Bob: And you know how—
Barbara: I know it too.
Bob: —your son—what was the word he used?
Dennis: I thought he could have picked a better word.
Bob: What was the word that he used?
Dennis: I would not have thought of this word in a hundred years. [Laughter]
Barbara: But it’s true.
Bob: Barbara, what was the word?
Barbara: The word was “intentional.”
Bob: And you agree that that—
Barbara: I would agree.
Bob: —is the defining word?
Barbara: I don’t know if it’s the defining word; but it is definitely, I would say, one of the top five.
Bob: And if they were asked—if the kids were asked to define you in a word, would intentional be one of the top five for you?
Barbara: I would think it would be in the top five. [Laughter]
Bob: So, Mr. Intentional—
Barbara: They got a double dose!
Bob: —and Mrs. Intentional got married; huh?
Dennis: Well, we’re both about seizing the moment.
Barbara: Yes, we are. I think it’s—in the holidays, it’s especially important that we seize the moment and that we are intentional about making it what we want it to be. If we want to focus on gratitude, we’ve got to find a way to do it because it’s not going to happen naturally.
Bob: So, if parents are thinking, “Okay, I want to be intentional,”—and we want them to be intentional and have some focus. Yet, as soon as you start talking about it—Dennis, you said pace is already a factor—they think: “I don’t have time to be intentional. I don’t have space to be intentional. I’m too tired to be intentional.” [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s—no kidding—I mean, seriously.
Bob: That’s how you feel.
Dennis: So, what happens, Bob, is—families don’t celebrate meals together. So, how would you ever have a time to do something like what we used to do?—which was to make a list of how we are grateful. Each of us, as family members, is grateful for one another. We’d feature one of the kids at the dinner table and say: “Let’s all go around the table.
“Let’s tell Ashley”—our firstborn—“what we appreciate about Ashley.”
They’d go around the table. Invariably, they’d share something about: “She’s cute,” “She’s kind,” “She’s nice,”—this. And one of them would always say, “Because she shares her toys with us.” [Laughter] But it taught them to stop, in the midst of life, and just merely express appreciation for other family members. I don’t think we do that often enough.
Bob: You didn’t save that up and make that just something you do on Thanksgiving Day. You were doing this, year round, just occasionally peppering it into a meal?
Dennis: Yes. Frankly, as you take the temperature of each of your children or of your spouse, there may be a moment when they need this. I admit I’ve come home, on more than one occasion, a little discouraged by things that had taken place, here at FamilyLife; and I was in need of some people believing in me again and expressing appreciation.
Barbara: So, it was fun when we would do that. The kids—sometimes, they rolled their eyes and didn’t want to do it—but nonetheless, what it illustrated is that, to be thankful / to appreciate another person, you have to step out of the routine. You’ve got to step out of what you normally do, which is to think about yourself and what’s next on your agenda. So, as parents, we have to help our kids step out of their natural bent toward selfishness and help them focus on somebody else because the essence of thanksgiving and gratitude is focusing on someone else.
For us, as believers, it’s directing our thanksgiving and our gratitude toward the source of everything that we enjoy in life, which is God Himself.
Bob: There are Bible verses that talk about the importance of gratitude. You mentioned that, in your study of Scripture, you’ve come across dozens of verses—well, a couple hundred in the Old Testament—
Bob: —and dozens in the New Testament—things like: “Give thanks in all things,
[1 Thessalonians 5:18]”
Colossians [3:15-17] talks about how thanksgiving needs to be a part of what we do. Reading these verses to our kids—having them memorize these verses / memorizing them together with them—this can be a part of how we focus on / how we can be intentional about cultivating gratitude in the heart of a child.
Barbara: It’s one of the ways that parents can train their children in being grateful and being thankful. Again, it’s calling their attention to something that we, as moms and dads, know is important for them and that they need to have as a character quality in their lives because they are not going to do it on their own.
So, finding some of these verses—one of the easiest to memorize is, “Give thanks in all things,”—1 Thessalonians 5:18. It’s very easy for even a three-year-old or a four-year-old to memorize. It’s just as important for the 18-year-old and the adult because that’s a pretty comprehensive verse. When you stop and think about it—giving thanks in all things—that is never going to run out in anybody’s life.
Bob: And if you were to say to your kids—after you memorize a verse like that—say, “Now, I’m going to give a dollar to the first person who can catch me not giving thanks when I ought to be giving—
Barbara: That’s a good one.
Bob: —“thanks. You see me in a situation—
Dennis: Our kids would have immediately begun to negotiate, “Could you make it ten?” [Laughter]
Bob: I thought you were going to say, “Their IRA would be full by now with dollars that they had collected over the years.”
Barbara: Well, that would be true too.
Bob: But all of a sudden, when you game-ify something like this—when you make it a challenge or a competition—it can get out of hand quickly. Kids can start jumping on everything and say: “You should have said, ‘Thank you,’ there,” “You didn’t say anything. You were grumbling.”
Bob: So, you’ve got to lay down the rules and make it clear—but: “If you—sometime this week, if you can catch me grumbling when I should be giving thanks / you catch me doing that—the first one who does—I’ll give you a dollar.” That just heightens the awareness for kids.
Barbara: Well, the other thing you could do—speaking of game-ifying—
—is you could pay your kids to look up as many verses as they can find on the topic of thanksgiving or gratitude and give them a time limit—ten minutes or whatever you want to do. We did that with our kids one time on all the verses they could find on the topic of the heart. We paid them—what?—a dime or a quarter per verse and set a time limit.
Dennis: I don’t think we had a time limit—that was my mistake.
Barbara: Oh, yes. [Laughter] But it was good for them to realize that God has a whole lot to say about the heart. This would be a similar exercise—God has a whole lot to say about being thankful.
Bob: And you can teach them how to use a concordance—
Bob: —and how they can learn and do word studies—or how to use the computer if you don’t have a concordance.
Barbara: That’s right.
Bob: There is a lot that you can do to say, “Here is how you do a word search in the Bible on our computer.”
Dennis: The other thing you can do is begin to look for people who are in our culture today who are under-appreciated by the public.
Dennis: Now, who might come to your mind, as you think about a group of people or people in the public service somehow in our country?
Bob: I was thinking about being out to lunch with you the other day. We were having lunch at a place where there were a couple of police officers having lunch. You just turned to one of the police officers; and you said: “Thank you for what you do. Thanks for your service.” And the police officer said, “You’re welcome,” or “Thank you,” or something and kind of moved on—seemed a little embarrassed, maybe, by it—but I think police officers aren’t getting a whole lot of gratitude today.
Barbara: Another group that doesn’t get any appreciation is TSA agents. So, for those of you who travel—none of us like going through security / none of us like taking off our shoes and putting all our junk on the belt. It really is inconvenient to have to do all of that; but the people that are there, that are asking us to do all that, are doing it for our safety, and they are doing it for our protection.
Bob: And they are human beings.
Barbara: Yes, they are.
Bob: Let’s remember they are people—
Barbara: They are people.
Dennis: —made in the image of God.
Dennis: What was the word that you used on another broadcast about a robot?
Bob: Automatons. [Laughter]
Dennis: Automatons. They’re not—
Bob: They’re not automatons.
Dennis: They are not.
They are real human beings.
Bob: You like that word?
Dennis: I do. [Laughter]
Barbara: Yes, that’s kind of fun. But one of the things that Dennis has started doing in the last couple of years is making it a point to thank the TSA workers for their work on our behalf. He’s asked a few of them, “So, how many people ever thank you for what you do?” And most of them say, “No one,” or “Never.” And he said, “Really?!” We’ve had TSA agents tell us that they’ve had people spit in their face, and yell at them, and cuss at them, and just all kinds of really, really awful things. When you think about that / what a miserable job that would be. So, to have someone say, “Thank you for doing what you’re doing,” would—I would think—make their day.
Dennis: I was in one airport recently where, after I travelled all the way through security, I got stopped by the head TSA agent. Here is a tip, folks—your conversations with the TSA agents are being overheard—
—because he was listening on a pair of earphones to what’s happening to his agents to be able to spot trouble in advance. He came up to me and he said, “I heard you thank two or three of our TSA agents, going through security.” He goes: “That’s remarkable. I just want to thank you for saying, ‘Thank you.’”
I think, in our culture today, we are so rude / we’re so impersonal—that just relating to other people and being nice to them is really a way that you can train your children. Frankly, whether your children are watching or not, just do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Bob: You mentioned—and we’ve talked about it here before—but as a part of your celebration of Thanksgiving over the years / a part of your intentionality in teaching your kids to be thankful—you passed out cards at the dinner table for Thanksgiving. Was this a “You don’t get your turkey until you fill out the card”-kind of thing?
Barbara: Actually, it was—we did it first.
I knew that, if we tried to do it during the meal, it would be messy and it would be ridiculous. If we did it afterwards, everybody would want to get up and run; and they were tired of sitting. So, we did do it first; and they didn’t eat until they did the card.
Bob: And you didn’t just have them verbalize what they were thankful for, but you had them write it down.
Barbara: I had them write it down first. Everyone had a card on their plate with a pencil or a pen. Everybody knows the routine, now. They, sometimes, sit down and start filling out the card without any instruction; but initially, those first few years, I had to help them know that we’re going to write down five things that we are thankful for that happened this year in our lives.
And when the kids were little, they put little things—“I’m thankful for my toy,”—and whatever, but it didn’t matter. I love having those ones from the three-year-olds and the four-year-olds—when they write just a couple of words. As the kids got older and we continued to do this, there were some pretty remarkable sentences written by our older children in their teenage years:
“I’m thankful that I didn’t make the team because I learned about God’s…”—whatever.
It’s been a great memory-maker for us. I didn’t anticipate that having all of us, including Dennis and me, write down what we’re thankful for—I didn’t think about the storehouse, so to speak, of memories that we were creating. I just wanted them to practice pausing and thinking, “What am I grateful for?” and then writing it down. That was the end goal for me.
Dennis: It’s interesting. I have here the collection that is a scrapbook—and she didn’t start out with a scrapbook in mind, I can promise you that—but we have the first two in here. There is one by our son, Benjamin. He misspelled his name as he was attempting to write it; but he said: “I’m thankful for my family because they can help me when I need it. They can build responsibility with me. My brother can play with me and help me build things.
“I can share personal things with my parents. My sisters are good friends and helpers. They encourage me to do special things with and for me, and they surprise me. They give me food, a home, clothes, a bed, warm blankets. They drive me to school.”
Bob: Now, what age? What year was that?
Dennis: Well, this was 1987. So, he would have been 11 or 12—somewhere in there.
Bob: Okay. And having this—do the kids go back and look at what they’ve written?
Barbara: I get it out every Thanksgiving and set it on the coffee table. Sometimes, they sit and flip through it; and sometimes, they are too busy chasing their kids, and they don’t. But I get it out every year.
Bob: You know, honestly, this is one of the reasons why we started doing an annual Christmas letter that we would send out to friends. Even if nobody read it, I wanted to have 25 years of Christmas letters that—now, our kids go back and say, “Can you believe, when I was 13, that I wrote this?” or “…I said this?” Writing these things down and preserving them—
Bob: —is a part of—we’ve talked about memories and how important memories are. This is a big part of that.
Barbara: Our daughter, Ashley, does the same thing with their Christmas letter. She said, “I don’t care if anybody reads it, but it’s a good discipline for me to summarize what God has done in our family over the past year.” She said, “And I will have these to help us remember.”
Bob: You’ve always had a sense that a mealtime can be a significant spiritual time, not just because of the food, but because of the conversation. And there is something about being together around the table, sharing a meal, that gives you an opportunity. You came up with a spool of napkin ties that have a purpose; right? Explain what this is all about.
Barbara: Well, about two or three years ago, we created, as you said, a spool of napkin ties or napkin ribbons. Each one of them has a question printed on it. The idea is to do what we’ve been talking about—find a way to create meaningful conversation.
We want to be with people we care about, and we want to create memories with them. And the way to do that is to have something meaningful that we do together or we share together in some way or another.
The questions are all about being thankful or being grateful. The idea is that, as everyone gets their napkin and takes the ribbon off of the napkin to put the napkin in your lap, you see that on this piece of ribbon is a question. You can do it anyway you want to in your family—you can do it before the food is served, you can do it as everyone sits down, or you can have everyone save their question and do it at dessert—whatever you want to do. The idea is—you read the question. So, if the three of us are having dinner, I would have you read the question first, Bob. Whatever the question is, then, you would tell us what your answer to that question is. Then, we would go around.
And it’s amazing what you learn about people when you answer these questions.
We’ve heard phenomenal stories of families, who like most families, just have conversation about the weather or the football game that they are getting ready to go watch; but when they use these napkin ties on their table, even people that they didn’t expect would be open and honest would share. They found that they learned things about one another that they wouldn’t have without the help of these questions.
Bob: There are different questions. So, you have a whole series of different questions on each spool—
Bob: —so that each person doesn’t have the same question.
Barbara: Yes, all the questions are different. One spool has 12 questions. This year, we’re coming out with a second set. So, we’ve got two sets of questions on gratitude. Since most families have a pretty big gathering at Thanksgiving, that allows you to have 24 different questions if you’ve got a big crowd of people.
Bob: And the focus is on gratitude with each one?
Barbara: They are all on gratitude.
Dennis: Let me just read a couple of them here: “What little things are you thankful for today?” Now, you don’t think of that possibly opening up a serious conversation between family members; but you may have a family member who you really haven’t had a meaningful conversation with in a long time.
So, these questions—in fact, I know one son who invited his dad to come to their Thanksgiving celebration. They had these napkin ties, “Untie Your Story,” out at each place setting. The dad, who was not one to ever get into something like this, said, “Aren’t we going to answer these questions?” They went around the table. This man, who was in his 60s, began to get tears in his eyes. He said, “It was an astounding, open conversation that our family had for the first time in a long time—maybe, even ever.” And he said, “It made that Thanksgiving meal truly one to remember.”
Bob: So, if somebody unties a napkin and the question is: “What little things are you thankful for today?” and they say:
“I’m thankful that there was hot water in the shower—that we’ve got a hot water heater—
Dennis: Yes. Yes.
Bob: —“and a shower,”—and that’s it—
Dennis: That’s it.
Bob: —is that okay—
Bob: —that they don’t have more to say than that?
Barbara: Oh, absolutely because there are people that are very reluctant to be transparent. You just take what you get and say, “Thank you for sharing that,”—
Barbara: —because it is true that we need to be grateful that we have hot water coming out of the shower.
Barbara: So, you know, that may be a baby step to that person, thinking, “But there is more too.”
Dennis: Well, these questions are safe for people, who aren’t followers of Christ. Here is one that could be a threatening question—but I get the feeling this would be an interesting question to have everybody at the table answer: “Death and loss are a very difficult part of everyone’s life. Share a loss that, in the end, brought great meaning to your life.” Well, I’d want to have that question asked at the beginning of the meal to allow someone some time to think about it before answering.
Bob: Time to process—you don’t want to put them on the spot for that one.
Dennis: No, you don’t; but I’ve got a feeling the answer to that question could bring you really a whole lot closer to a family member or, maybe, a stranger at your table that otherwise wouldn’t happen.
I think what we are looking for, in this crowded culture we live in—in fact, one educator has referred to it, “We suffer today from crowded loneliness.” I think we’ve got a lot of casual relationships. We may have hundreds of friends on Facebook®, and Twitter®, and all kinds of social media; but the question is: “Does anybody know you? Does anybody know what’s going on in your life?” These holidays are built for families to truly connect with one another.
Bob: Well, a tool like this makes it easy. That’s why you created it; right?
Bob: We’ve got copies of the new “Untie Your Story.” You did an original set of these on the subject of gratitude—these napkin ties. Now, there is a second volume that’s got new questions.
You can order one or both sets of the “Untie Your Story” gratitude spools from us. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about this resource that Barbara Rainey has put together. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER;” or call to order—1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Let me just also mention—there are other resources on thanksgiving and gratitude that we have available. You can check those out, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or if you have any questions about the resources we have available, give us a call.
You know, this whole issue of gratitude is something that the Scriptures explain, “This is a part of what a transformed life ought to look like.” As God pours His grace into us, what ought to come out is the grace of gratitude.
Thankfulness should be more and more a part of what is in our lives. Our goal, here at FamilyLife Today, is to help cultivate in you and in your family these kinds of godly graces. We want to see your family moving in the direction of godliness. We want to see all of us embracing God’s design for us, as a family. We’re grateful for those of you who share that vision with us and who help support this ministry to make this daily radio program possible.
Right now, if you can help with a donation, we’d love to send you a book from Barbara Rainey called Growing Together in Gratitude. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I care,”—make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone. Or mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for being with us. Hope you have a great weekend, and I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday. Pastor Darrin Patrick is going to be here. We’re going to talk about men being men in marriage. He’s written a book called The Dude’s Guide to Marriage. So, if you are a dude, tune in; or if you know a dude, encourage him to tune in on Monday.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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