If you’ve spent any time around small children, you’re well aware that toddlers can be cute and quite demanding. A comedian once said that he could rule the world with an army of three-year-olds. Children have to be taught thankfulness whereas selfishness, jealousy, and entitlement come quite naturally.
As Christians, we understand we inherited our sinful nature from our first parents, Adam and Eve. Let’s explore why gratitude comes so unnaturally, even when we know it’s good for us.
To illustrate this, let’s look in on a typical American family Christmas morning.
Lack of thankfulness on Christmas Morning
Children often make wishlists for Christmas and share them with their parents. If they end up getting almost everything they ask for, after a couple of years they start to expect they will receive what they ask for. Eventually, they might become disappointed or even demanding when it doesn’t happen.
Watch what happens when they open presents. Bobby opens a new sweater from Grandma. “Thanks, Grandma.” After giving her a quick hug, he asks, “What’s next?”
That wasn’t on the list, so Bobby is disappointed. Even though it’s a nice sweater and something he needs, it wasn’t a priority. So it’s hard for him to be very thankful.
Now, brother Jonny opens a brand new race car, the one Bobby put on his list. Jealousy arises. Bobby secretly hopes he’ll get one, too, but he’s having a hard time being thankful for what he has and excited for his brother.
Jealousy and covetousness are avowed enemies of gratitude and thankfulness.Phil Mershon
Bobby and Jonny keep opening presents with vengeance. Occasionally they will stop to play and dwell on some of the gifts, but they are quickly mesmerized by the unopened packages.
Aren’t we like that? We become forgetful all too quickly and fail to remember the thousands of ways God blesses us and we don’t notice most of the ways people show us kindness. We take it for granted, expecting that we deserve it somehow.
Now the presents are all opened and Bobby and Jonny carry their presents to their rooms, leaving the wrapping paper for Mom and Dad to clean up. They dutifully say “thank you” to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and their parents for the great gifts. But if you watch their language, I suspect all they say is “thank you.”
The root of shallow thankfulness
Another reason our gratitude is shallow-rooted is our words of thanks lack specificity. We don’t spend time acknowledging the thoughtfulness of others or God. As a result, our thankfulness doesn’t really come from our hearts.
The Apostle Paul said about the Philippians, “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (Phil. 1:3 NLT). When we think of others, do we find ourselves grateful, or do we dwell on the shortcomings and failures of others?
Let’s follow Bobby and Jonny on the day after Christmas. Most of their gifts lie in piles unattended. There’s likely one or two prized toys that will be played with for a while. But how are they feeling about their gifts?
Inspect your thank you cards
The answer gets revealed when we ask them to write thank you cards. “Do I have to?” “I already told them ‘thank you’, so why do I have to send them a card?” Every excuse in the book pours out. But if you manage to get them to write a thank you card, it most likely still reflects shallow gratitude.
The art of thank you card writing is mostly lost. When I receive one that has been thoughtfully written it always touches me. I confess I’m not good at writing them.
That’s why one of the challenge exercises in this 90-Day Gratitude Challenge is to write one thank you card each week. You might decide to do more than that, but I encourage you to make a list of people in your journal you want to thank. Take time to make it thoughtful, specific, and personal. Let it flow from your heart.
Lord, I pray you will teach me to be more thankful toward you and those around me. Help me to notice and show appreciation. May I not be consumed by jealousy, covetousness, or a demanding spirit. Instead, may I remember and express gratefulness increasingly. I’m thankful that you don’t reject me, though I take your love for granted too often. Thank you that you are so patient with me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.