I defined biblical thankfulness as, “a response to who God is and what He has done by feeling and expressing gratitude no matter the circumstance.” Defining and building a framework is a good starting point, but the bigger question might be “how”?
How do I cultivate it in my own life? How do I cultivate thankfulness in my family?
It can be especially hard during the holidays. You’ve got your kids losing their ever loving minds, your over the top cousin Vinny – decked out in Under Armour from head to toe – is yelling at your daughter during the family flag football game, Aunt Betsy keeps asking you when you’re gonna find you a man, and politics is *politely* brought up around the dinner table. Oh joy, ’tis the season!
Even with all the craziness of the holidays, we can do our part to take steps to being a more thankful person and helping cultivate thankfulness in our family.
Let the Scripture Lead You There
The first thing we can do is let the scripture lead us to thanksgiving. The scripture specifically calls us to be thankful and to be a thankful people.
- Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 136:1
- “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name… to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night.” —Psalm 92:1-2
- “At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments.” —Psalm 119:62
- “He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks.” —Romans 14:6
- “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” —Colossians 4:2.
- “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” —Colossians 3:17
- “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We are not just forcing thankfulness to rise up in our hearts. Instead, we are letting the scripture, and reflecting on God, stir our affections towards a posture of thankful praise.
Cultivate Thankfulness in Your Own Heart First
Our family is not going to do something we’re not doing. We must fight daily to remember who God is, what he has done for us through his son Jesus, what provisions his given to us materially and the many daily graces we tend to overlook. We often spend to much time reflecting on what we don’t have or what we wish we had versus being grateful for the abundance of blessings we have received from the Giver of good gifts, our Heavenly Father.
Create a space to be thankful together and speak it out loud.
I’ll never forget a Thanksgiving where my parents had everyone say out loud what they were thankful for that day. It was so incredibly awkward and painful! Ha! Looking back though, I’m so proud of them for pushing through the opposition of their angsty teen (who had dyed hair and fake diamonds in his ear…what did that dude know about life?!?!?!). The beautiful thing was that after everyone was done, the atmosphere felt lighter and more joyful. Create a space this Thanksgiving where you can speak out loud what you are thankful for and let it stir up heart-thankfulness.
Speak it out loud together as a family, but warn everyone first! Before you do this let everyone know it’s going to happen. One of the challenges is when you put family members on the spot. Not everyone loves that and it can be an introverts nightmare! So let it breathe and give people some lead time before you jump in.
Put away the phone. Seriously, as much as I love looking at the same basic thanksgiving post as the next millennial, just be present. Comparison is the thief of joy and social media can rob you of the gratitude you’re trying to cultivate.
Invite everyone to be present. This is one of the more challenging ones, but invite your family away from their phones, the tv or distraction into the gift of presence. Don’t just tell them not to be on their phone, but invite them into structured time where they can be present with family.
A thankfulness jar. Have a jar where everyone puts in something they are thankful for and then read them out loud.
A thankfulness tree. I’m grateful for my wife fighting to cultivate thanks in our family through traditions. We do a “thankfulness tree” where we trace our hands, write something we’re thankful for every night and then place the hands on the tree every day in November.
Journal 3 things you’re thankful for every night. This has been a practice I’ve been trying to cultivate in my life for a few years and I think it’s finally breaking through in my own heart.
Serve together. There is something about serving that cultivates thankfulness. It allows you to create right perspective and softens your heart against entitlement, bitterness and discontentment.
Worship together. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name… to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night.” —Psalm 92:1-2 Singing can help stir up that heart-thankfulness in an experiential way, so get your whole family to church.
Play together. This is not a “cultivating thanks” practice per se, but it can be one of the things your kids look back on and reminisce with gratitude. So pull out the board games, play a family flag football game in the front yard and just have fun.
Speak a word of thanks for those not present. I wrote this one for all my friends who have lost loved ones. Maybe take some time to talk about the things you loved about the time you had together. Be sensitive with this one and if it’s too fresh, maybe wait for next year.
A Final Word
Cultivating thankfulness and gratitude as a value in your family won’t be easy. It’s not going to be a quick fix or created through a few big moments, but it’s going to be cultivated in 10,000 little moments.
Also, let me take the pressure of you for you “type A” personalities out there – it’s not going to happen completely this Thanksgiving, but you can take the right steps forward. I’m not advocating for anything big, but a few small steps of faithfulness in the right direction. I also know that each family member has a different temperament, family dynamics are unique and our own personalities play into the circumstance.
This November at the Frazier household, we are on year two of our “Thankfulness Tree”. Is it awesome? Absolutely. Are we doing it every night? Heck no, because we’ve got two tyrants…I mean lovely children… who are trying to tear it down, or won’t let us trace their hands or we’re just two tired parents who want these lovely children to go to sleep! Do we still try? Yes. Is it worth it? One hundred percent.
Why? Because I love what it represents, what it does to our hearts, and what I pray it develops in our family. It represents the the people we hope to be, it’s reminding our hearts to slow down long enough to gain perspective and I pray it becomes the undercurrent to our family.
So let us plant the seeds of thankfulness this holiday season and may we reap a harvest of gratitude within our families!