Grateful Hearts!

Grateful Hearts! 

by Dr. Curt Brannan

As I write Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Most of us look forward to things like time with family and (though we don’t often admit it) eating more than we should because, well, it IS Thanksgiving after all. And, I pray it will be special for you and your family.

But, at the risk of invading your privacy – a sin of truly immense proportion I know – I must ask this question: Will your Thanksgiving include real gratitude? I don’t have in mind just some obligatory “thank you,” but an authentic expression of appreciation to the living God and those who fill your life with gifts of love and care each day.

Years ago, while visiting my folks, I realized the importance of expressing gratitude.  One afternoon I took a handful of pictures from an old tin box that had been stored high on the shelf of a back-bedroom closet.  The photos were mostly yellowed like pictures get when they have spent years buried in a hidden archive somewhere. As you might suspect the subjects were old houses and old people.  The people wore outdated clothes and posed with wagons or vintage cars.  Some I recognized, but mostly the names and places were a mystery.

One picture moved me with vague feelings of recognition.  I asked, “Where’s this Mom?”

“That’s your Uncle Frank and Aunt Jennie’s house,” she replied.

Then I remembered!  I have no idea how they came to have money when so many didn’t, but we had rented from them during the Depression.  According to Mom, she and Dad had paid just $12 a month rent during those difficult years. I remembered none of that of course. I must have been no more than 5 or 6 at the time. But I did (and still do!) remember one thing about my aunt and uncle: every couple of weeks they gave me a candy bar when we met at a neighborhood theater to see a movie. (Admission was10 cents in those days!) I remember nothing about the movies, though I’m sure they were far better than today’s fare, but I do remember each time they gave me a whole Milky-Way, and that was a momentous event in those days.

Looking at that old picture I found myself wanting to simply, and from my heart, say “thank you!” I suppose I did at the time – probably with my parents coaching me, but I would love for them to know how deeply their expression of love impacted me. Now they’re gone and I can’t tell them. At the time I’m sure I focused on the candy, but with the passing years I realized it was the love expressed by that candy that made it memorable. The candy is gone – the gift of love remains to this day.

To express gratitude – not the perfunctory expression of thanks we so glibly throw into our conversations – but real gratitude, involves recognition of being dependent as human beings. That doesn’t always come when we are young – so we must coach children; “What do you say?” They learn to respond with the right words, but what about gratitude?

I have couched all this in terms of human relationships. And, I pray the words will cause at least some to consider those “little things” people do that express their love; things we sometimes give hardly a second thought. However, my real concern goes much deeper!

We live in an ungrateful time. The clerk in the store says, “There you go,” as though he has done us a favor, not “Thank you,” in recognition of some level of reliance on our business. But then, do we understand our dependence? Having much seems to bring with it self-sufficiency – we are beholding to no one, not even God.

Though we all truly have more than we need, I fear we most often see ourselves as deserving still more.  It is easy to become immersed in a world of toys and things, wanting the latest and best.  We may indulge ourselves and our children to the point that even gifts lovingly given, are taken for granted or expected. Families can sit down to tables laden with food and “say the blessing” with words that are no more than empty sounds, and fail to reflect on or understand all the table represents. Even secular writers have recognized ours is a “consumer culture” Many “shop till they drop,” then organize garage sales to keep from drowning in the junk.

However, “things” aren’t the real issue. True gratitude begins with understanding life itself is a gift. Our essential dependence is not on things at all. First, and most importantly, our dependence is upon the Creator and Sustainer of life; the One who has given us life. Till we understand this, things will keep forcing themselves to the front, but never satisfy.

As parents we certainly need to coach our children to say “thanks”. Beyond this, however, they need to grow up in an atmosphere where recognition of dependence brings them to understand both God’s gift of life and life’s gifts.  But do they? What do they catch from us? Do they develop appreciation or a sense of entitlement that leaves them cranky if they don’t have the latest and best? What do they learn from us about the abundance to which we sit down each day? Do they hear us complain, learning in the process that without some “thing” they are obviously being deprived? Do they learn from us that everyday of life and every resource we have is there that we might indulge ourselves, or do they learn that we live only by the grace and mercy of a loving God? Do they see that what He puts in our hands isn’t given us to pander to self and pride, but is ours that we might both bless others and, as stewards, honor and glorify Him?

What will Thanksgiving look like at your house? But more importantly: What is it your children are learning from you everyday of the year about things, dependence and gratitude?

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness!

Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;

his steadfast love endures forever,

and his faithfulness to all generations.