By Anne Metz
This season is a perfect time to reflect on gratitude. We give thanks for the opportunities to spend time with our families and friends, for the beauty of the changing seasons, and for our health and the health of our loved ones. We offer all our thanks to God because “every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17-18)
Saint Gianna Molla defines gratitude as the key to happiness. She said, “The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” Expressing thanks reminds us all we have to be happy about in the present moment. It also helps us look back on our past with gratitude and towards the future with hope.
So, how can we help our children increase in gratitude and experience this happiness on their own?
Express Gratitude in Prayer
Make sure your child knows where all blessings come from: our loving Father in Heaven. From our first and most precious gift, our life, to the little things like warm buttered rolls on the Thanksgiving table, it is important to teach our children to thank God for all.
Prayers of thanksgiving can be simple so that even the smallest children can manage. You can use a simple fill in the blank model: “Thank you God for________.”
List Your Blessings
Challenge your children to see how many things they are grateful for. Can they name 50, 100, 200? Sit down together and see how many they can add to their list.
Post a whiteboard, chalkboard, or posterboard in a prominent place in the home and add to the list each day. If your child gets stuck, give them some examples to get started.
Make the Season Last
True, gratitude is on our minds at this time of year, but we should be thankful every day. Think of ways to increase prayers of gratitude throughout the year. Maybe each child says something they are grateful for before saying grace before meals or give thanks during bedtime prayers.
When Things are Difficult
It is easy to be grateful when things are going well, but as we well know, life isn’t always sunshine and roses. So, how can we increase gratitude in the midst of suffering? How can we teach our children to “count it all joy” when they are sick, or at odds with a friend, or struggling to understand a new math concept at school?
In terms they can understand, explain the redemptive quality of suffering. Jesus suffered on this earth and none of us here can escape it, but we can align our sufferings with his. Take a note from St. Maximilian Kolbe who said, “For Jesus Christ I am prepared to suffer still more. And let us not forget that Jesus not only suffered, but also rose in glory; so, too, we go to the glory of the Resurrection by way of suffering and the Cross.”
Teach them to trust in the power of God and in His love for us. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Because God’s ways are above our ways and His thoughts above ours, we can’t know exactly why He allows bad things to happen, but we can learn to trust that He has goodness in store for us. So, when your children are sick, teach them to trust that they will get well. When they are at odds with a friend, remind them that Jesus is their very best friend who knows them and loves them completely. When school is difficult, remind them to give thanks for a mind that can learn, and a patient teacher who is there to help them.
Because at the core of gratitude is hope; hope that things will get better, that suffering on this earth isn’t the end of our story. This is a hope that even the youngest can share with our world.
As Pope Francis so eloquently said, “Above all, let us not forget to thank: if we are bearers of gratitude, the world itself will become better, even if only a little bit, but that is enough to transmit a bit of hope.”
Anne Metz works part-time as a freelance writer and the other part working for Growing Catholics, whose mission it is to bring scripture to all, especially young people.