My dad had the questionable habit of picking up hitchhikers in the mid-eighties, especially in winter.
One icy school morning, my little sister and I snuggled up in the back seat of our station wagon, while my dad pulled over to invite a stranger into the front seat. A few miles later, Dad dropped us off at school with a kiss and headed down the road to take the traveler wherever it was he needed to go.
It seemed completely normal.
Except that evening at dinner, Dad told us about Sam, the hitchhiker he picked up that morning. “He can’t afford milk, so he just eats his cereal with water,” my dad explained. My nine-year-old heart melted.
The next day, my dad took me to a grocery store where he let me load up brown paper sacks with whatever I wanted: milk, eggs, bread, and deli meat. I added pop tarts for good measure. It felt a bit like Christmas morning delivering those groceries to Sam.
My dad planted gratefulness in my heart that day.
As we enter this season, I want to plant seeds of gratefulness in my own children’s hearts that they will carry with them throughout their lives. My parents did this for me in a million small ways. Like careful gardeners, they tended the soil of my heart, planting truths in three ways: thoughts, words, and actions.
Gratefulness start with true thinking. In a culture where truth is relative, my dad taught us to look to the Bible for truth. Biblical truth affects everything in our lives from our view of ourselves, our relationships with others, our possessions, and true contentment and joyful living. My dad embraced a worldview that teaches us we are forgiven, fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who delights in us. It made him so grateful. My dad picked up hitchhikers because he loved the Lord with his entire being, and he believed every person was made in the image of their Creator, worthy of the love and grace of God. As a parent, this kind of thinking is essential for us first if we want to plant gratefulness in our children’s hearts.
Gratefulness can be taught with words. My dad’s relationship with God bubbled out of his heart and came out of his mouth. He couldn’t help teaching us thankfulness. He understood that real treasure is found in the Lord, and not in possessions. He taught us Matthew 6:19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasure in heaven….for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” My dad loved reading us Scripture at night before bed. I remember being slightly embarrassed and a little proud of him when he did this even when I had friends over to spend the night. Reading and discussing biblical truths with our children plants seeds of gratefulness in their hearts.
Gratefulness can be modeled with actions. Not only did my dad talk about gratefulness, he modeled gratefulness through a giving spirit. We can talk to our kids all day long about how “kids around the world don’t have enough to eat, or don’t have parents to love and care for them,” but that could possibly only result in them feeling guilty. To foster gratefulness, we also need to involve ourselves and our children in the joyous and life-giving work of building the kingdom of God. We can do this through our local church, ministries helping the poor and homeless, mission trips, or just caring for those in need around us. Those seeds of gratefulness take root when we help our kids take action on what we are teaching them.
As I was working on writing this post, my dad ended up in the hospital with a broken sternum from a high fall out of a tree he was trimming. I spent two days there with him observing his grateful spirit, never once complaining, always kind and thankful. While he sometimes forgot what day it was, he took effort to learn the names of all the nurses and show them appreciation. He told a housekeeping worker as she emptied the trash, “Did you know that your job is one of the most important jobs in this hospital?”
Dad is now home recovering. I’m thankful for the lessons he and my mom taught me throughout my life, as those seeds he planted in my heart have grown into harvest. Our kids need us to do the hard work of planting seeds of gratefulness in their hearts. I’m still learning this from my dad, as I hope my kids are learning it from me.
April Graney is the author of The Marvelous Mud House, a whimsical true story about finding contentment and joy based on her family’s trip to Kenya. Her passions are pointing her own five children towards the grace of God, serving in ministry at New Life Ranch in Oklahoma with her husband, and teaching children and parents about God’s heart for the world and those living in poverty. She enjoys early morning runs with friends, growing tomatoes and herbs, taking naps, drinking coffee, blogging and attempting to be an artist. She has a master’s degree in Biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and has taught Bible study methods to teenagers, and spoken at leadership camps, and mother/daughter retreats. Follow her blog at www.aprilgraney.com.