Growing a Thankful Family. Each year as the holiday season rolls around, we’re encouraged to count our blessings. This year we know that many are struggling financially. Perhaps you know families who have lost jobs and are wondering how they’ll pay their bills. You might know families devastated by flooding, tornadoes or other natural disasters that have swept our nation in past months. Perhaps your own family has special needs right now.
Here’s a question for you.
Is it possible to be thankful in difficult times? The answer is yes, it is.
In fact, it’s an excellent thing to be thankful even when in need and to once again remind ourselves of the truly important things in life. If you’ve ever traveled to a third world country you’ll know that we, in America, are bountifully blessed with material possessions far beyond our daily needs. So while we may never drive a Mercedes or own that picture-perfect home, we still have many reasons to be thankful.
Even if we’ve suffered financial setbacks we have many reasons to be thankful. When we count our blessings we move beyond mere things of the world and on to what really matters. If you were to make a mental list of the most important blessings in your life, I’d be willing to bet that most of them are people and your relationships with them.
What was life like when you were a child? Did you have enough? Did you go without? What lessons did you learn from parents and grandparents about important life values?
We all have stories to tell our children about the good old days and we really should pass them on to our children. Those good old days for me were the mid-1940’s through the 1960’s. Both my parents worked from the time I was nine years old and I was expected to pitch in with cooking and cleaning the house.
We only ate in restaurants or stayed in motels while on our two-week summer vacation which was a long road trip to North Dakota. There we visited farm relatives who had it even harder than we did! We always had plenty to eat, though the food was plain meat and potatoes. We owned five or six sets of clothing plus play clothes which we changed into after school each day. We received a ten cent weekly allowance that later went up twenty-five cents. Not much, but you have to remember that a quarter in those days could buy six candy bars. We had everything we needed and more and we never felt shortchanged, but we had a very simple life compared to most American children today.
It’s true that children tend to roll their eyes when grown-ups get carried away with the stories of the olden days. Especially if they are the preface to reasons they can’t have something they want. But it’s true—things are different now. Most of us have far more than we had as children. We live in better houses, own more possessions, expect more entertainment and in general tend to think we deserve a very comfortable day to day life. Our children take their cues from us and it’s a challenge to teach them to be satisfied with a simple lifestyle when all around they see a dizzying array of things to be bought and owned. How can we instill the values of a healthy work ethic, home-grown fun and a thankful heart into our children’s lives? I believe the answer lies in basic truths that need to be instilled in children from the time they can understand words. Our happiness is not found in things, but in relationships. Our wealth is not measured in material possessions, although many of them are fine things to have, but true wealth is found in family and friends. While it is pleasant to receive, true joy is found in service to others.
As my own children were growing up we had a saying that covered our philosophy of family life. That saying was, “We’re rich in love.” Our children would ask if we were rich or poor. We were middle class, but that doesn’t mean much to a child. The children knew that we gave a tithe to our church and we gave special offerings and gifts at other times. They knew there were “poor people” in the world and that we had enough to bless others in times of need. So when they asked if we were rich or poor, we always answered, “We’re rich in love” and gave out big hugs. The message they received was the truth—we had all we needed and enough left over to be generous. We were content.
I recently came across the story of the origin of an old folk song written by Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes called A Satisfied Mind. The story goes that Joe Hayes got the idea for his lyrics from his father in law who asked him a question. He asked, “Who is the richest man in the world?” Joe mentioned some names, the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Fords. “No, you’re wrong, Joe,” said the father in law. “The richest man in the world is the one with a satisfied mind.” And thus the familiar folk song sung by many country and folk artists was born.
One verse of that song goes like this:
How many times have you heard someone say
If I had his money I could do things my way.
Little they know that it’s so hard to find One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind.
A satisfied mind; how is a family to instill that as a value in today’s consumer-driven world?
What is a family to do in the midst of a society that says we need more and better and larger of everything?
The answer is, we intentionally teach otherwise. We plant the seeds of the attitudes we want to grow in our children and we tend those seeds all throughout the time our children grow up into the kind of adults we want them to become.
Plant the value of people over possessions.
Teach it, model it, talk about it.
Take every opportunity to show that family ties, respect and love for both family members and friends are to be highly prized and protected.
Let the goals of the family reflect on ways to live in harmony with others rather than striving to gather more and more possessions.
Answer questions that arise about the choices your family makes concerning the things you buy, how much you save, the places you visit, the cars you drive and more.
As everyday life unfolds there will be many teaching opportunities—times when you can water the seeds you’ve planted to teach a simple lifestyle.
Children can be taught the value of money and can learn to earn money for special toys or activities. The family can make choices to help others in need or stand up for principles held dear. Practical projects that put a high value on giving to others in need will be a life giving drink to the seedlings of generosity and kindness you’ve planted.
It isn’t easy to say no to our own desires or those of our children when they want something very badly. But there will be times when it is prudent to do so. Either the issue will be that the family can’t afford a good thing or chooses to decline to satisfy a desire for something counterproductive to the efforts being made to live simply.
Pruning always hurts a little bit, but if done wisely and carefully it produces even healthier plants.
Reap the harvest
The benefit of careful planting, watering, and pruning is a healthy plant that bears good fruit. Children growing up in a strong, harmonious and giving family will reflect the values they’ve learned throughout their lives.
They’ll enjoy the emphasis on family gatherings, the projects that use their gifts and skills for the benefit of others. They’ll eventually want to train their own children in the same strong values.
If this all sounds as easy as pie, you know that it isn’t. The pressures of our world are very real and there will be times when some compromise is the only way to get through the stresses of daily life. But the battle will be won over time as you faithfully sow the garden, water the seedlings and prune as necessary. You can trust that, just as the seasons follow one another, planting to harvest, you will reap the rewards of your efforts to grow a thankful family.