This year I will have custody of my daughter over Thanksgiving rather than Christmas. With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, I have been thinking a lot about the centrality of giving thanks and how to teach this essential act to our children.
Giving thanks is no small thing. It requires a great deal from us, a paradigm shift from the scarcity and fear the world demands of us into God’s incredible, gracious abundance. The world is constantly surrounding us with images, desires, and dare I say temptations, in an attempt to bind us, to make us slaves to scarcity.
This can be especially true, I think, for those of us who are parents. The day-to-day challenges of parenting, the constant demands of children, the messes and the never-ending piles of laundry make it so hard to stop and give thanks. The temptation to focus on our wants and desires becomes even harder to resist when our wants and desires are actually not for us, but for our children. There is always something we “need” for them, some next thing, some new toy, some upcoming celebration or holiday to plan. We want to give them the world! So often what we end up giving them is continued complicity in the world’s model of desire and scarcity.
But thanksgiving inoculates us from the lens of lacking, it frees us from wanting as it shifts our focus onto the gifts we already have been given. From a Christian perspective, what we have been given is no less than God’s self, and therefore there is no space in us to be lacking. This is why our central act as Christians is to gather on Sundays to make our Great Thanksgiving and offer back to God the gifts God has given us, just as we then receive no less than Christ’s own Body and Blood.
This year I want to teach my children to carry that Great Thanksgiving from Sunday into their daily lives. When we leave our weekly worship, we are called to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. It’s easy to forget that this means carrying that Thanksgiving, that Eucharist, into a world that sees itself as fundamentally lacking.
I think there are a few ways to teach that thanksgiving. The first, most fundamental way is to live it out for ourselves as parents. This means the hard work of shifting our perspective, making space in our daily lives to be thankful and focus on what we have instead of what we lack. It means living thankfulness toward our families in both our words and our actions, remembering to take the time to express gratitude, especially to our children.
This is especially hard if your situation is like mine. If you are in a broken or blended family, if you are a parent who does not see your child as often as you’d like, or if you are living in estrangement, it can seem – and has often for me – impossible to give thanks. In those situations, and in those tough moments, lift your longing to God, and perhaps find thanks in simply being able to do so.
My second suggestion is that we help our children make space to show their own thanks. It seems to me that children are naturally grateful and giving, and with just a little encouragement and support can grow into generous, thankful young people who will carry that attitude throughout their lives. Whether at the dinner table, the bedside, or wherever you have the time with your kids, make the space for expressing thanks and prayerfully offering that thanks to God.
The last thing I think is important and so often gets lost, is to teach our children that being thankful is at the heart of our Christian faith. As our secular Thanksgiving approaches it is the perfect opportunity for us to teach our children that our Eucharistic Prayer is indeed a prayer of Great Thanksgiving, an offering of thanks to God. We put bread, wine, and sometimes other items on the altar as an expression of our gratitude for what God has given us in Creation, and we tell the story of salvation as a further expression of our thanks.
If we teach our children from the beginning that we are all saying “thank you” to God in our Eucharist, this just might go a long way to making them lifelong thankful people, agents of gratitude and generosity in a world so desperately needing such. This year, I hope you’ll join me in the challenging but fruitful work of becoming more thankful. It will truly be a blessing to our kids, our families, and congregations, and to the world we are called to serve.
How might your observance of Thanksgiving deepen your faith this year?