It’s common at Thanksgiving to focus our gratitude on the gathering, great food, our material comforts, our possessions, enjoyable relationships, and other beautiful blessings. These are blessings for sure!
“All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God:
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country…
Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.” Deuteronomy 28:2-6
These are tangible “see ‘em, touch ‘em, everybody-loves-’em” blessings. And gratefulness is a natural and wonderful response! (You can share this silly video with your kids to spark some gratitude for tangible blessings. And don’t miss the really sweet video later in this post!)
Why is gratitude so important? The command to be grateful is woven throughout scripture.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Psalm 107:1
The brain chemistry of gratitude adds insight: “…gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, and …can boost the neurotransmitter serotonin and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine. Dopamine is our brain’s pleasure chemical. The more we think positive, grateful thoughts, the healthier and happier we feel.”
But as you list all the reasons to be thankful to God, what if this year, you look beneath the surface of circumstantial blessings and focus more on rich blessings that are unrelated to happy circumstances?
Toward that end, consider this thoughtful progression of the three most important (and most overlooked) reasons to be thankful to God.
Reason #1: Spiritual blessings
Start by reflecting on and steeping in the blessings that matter most:
- The life-changing power of Christ’s love and sacrifice for us
- The Father’s comfort in all our troubles
- The constant, loving guidance of the Holy Spirit
- The wonderful new identity that is given unconditionally to us
These are real reasons for thanking God that will outlast any tangible blessings. Focusing gratitude on these unconditional blessings is freeing and empowering. It invites you off the roller coaster ride of trying to extract life and value from achievements, possessions, and the affirmation of others. As you learn to believe that the love of Jesus is truly enough to be your source of joy, you become anchored in God’s grace.
FAMILY DISCUSSION QUESTION: What are important blessings from God that you can’t see?
Reason #2: Opportunities to be a blessing
How often do you list your ability to bless others as a reason to thank God? Everyone, regardless of circumstances, has the ability to serve others and give sacrificially. This ability to serve and give is an incredible privilege that is often overlooked.
“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6: 18-19)
It’s true that God gives us material blessings for our enjoyment! We’ve also been blessed with time, talents, resources, and gifts to serve God by serving others. This is what makes us truly rich, taking hold of the life that is truly life, regardless of our bank statement.
FAMILY DISCUSSION QUESTION: Why is it a blessing to be able to BE A BLESSING to someone?
Free Printable & Downloadable PDF
Want more depth at your Thanksgiving table? This FREE printable and downloadable PDF has 16 thoughtful and intentional questions you can ask.
Reason #3: Growth through trials!
Now we will consider another type of gratitude that is both challenging and profound. Consider the apostles who were jailed and flogged and then left “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” [of Christ Jesus] (Acts 5:17-42)
Sometimes, it can be challenging to give thanks when your circumstances are really hard! Can you still give thanks if you:
- have a “prodigal” child?
- lose your job?
- have been unfairly criticized?
- are in the midst of a health crisis?
- have family members who no longer speak to each other?
You might even feel like your trials are stacked on top of one another.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance…”(James 1:2-12) And wisdom… completeness… stability… and finally, the crown of life!
When you model thankfulness in trials, it nurtures godly resilience in your children. The more challenging the circumstances, the more your children will notice and learn from your grateful and even joyful attitude. And the more benefit it can yield in your own life.
This Thanksgiving, what challenges are you and your family facing?
I (Lynne) recently had the opportunity to coach a sweet couple who are walking through multiple trials, but with gratitude. They are living in a trailer with three active boys after evacuating a home infested with black mold. Homeschooling, numerous appointments, and the physical, neurological, and behavioral challenges caused by mold exposure have made life highly stressful. They gave permission for me to share this brief clip of their session. You’ll be encouraged and inspired by their profound insights!
“Building the muscle of gratitude… a new family identity… underground Kingdom work… an intense bond that stress-free living doesn’t provide.” Wow, what faith and insight! We shared a few tears in their session.
Grief and trials have also been a precious reality in our own family in the last five years. Two of these years have been the most difficult and traumatic of our lives! Three of our parents have died, and other loved ones have gone through multiple kinds of trauma and mental health crises.
But the blessings have been profound as God has “walked through the fire with us.” We have experienced the Lord’s comfort and tender care, and he has prompted people to pray for us at precisely the right times. The Holy Spirit has guided us in navigating these situations including some conflict. We sometimes needed to “remove some logs out of our eyes!” Just like removing a cataract, when God helps you remove a “log” out of your eye, it can be initially painful, but with such beautiful results!
This kind of conviction of sin isn’t a burden, it’s a gift that leads to healing, refreshment, and deeper relationships. We are stronger now, more compassionate, more connected in our marriage, and more in love with Jesus than ever. Those are some pretty amazing gifts, and we are intensely grateful. We have shared that gratitude with those around us, including our young adult kids!
Think about your character strengths and how they were developed… probably not in the “easy street” phases of your life! Maybe even times when your trials came from poor choices or “logs in your eyes.” But God can use all of it for our good when we walk out our calling in his purposes.
“Consider it pure joy….” because trials are the rocky road to invaluable character strength and dependence on God. There are no shortcuts.
Remember: when you model thankfulness for the difficulties in your life, it prepares your children to navigate the inevitable challenges they will face in life. This kind of thankfulness can bring your family to new depths of faith and joy.
FAMILY DISCUSSION QUESTION: Are there any reasons to be grateful for hard challenges and trials? What ideas do you have?
Engage kids in discovering reasons to be thankful to God
Here are some specific questions to discuss at Thanksgiving dinner, starting with the easiest and most concrete for young children:
- What is a part of God’s creation that you are thankful for and why?
- Who is someone who blesses you, and how do they do that?
- When have you had the joy of blessing someone else?
- When did you enjoy giving money to a good cause?
- When did you grow from a trial or challenge?
- When have you been thankful for God’s love for you?
For elementary or older kids, you can print this PDF of more thoughtful questions to dig deeper as a family. When Thanksgiving preparations begin, the kids can enjoy cutting out the cards. Use these conversation starters to grow connection and gratitude during Thanksgiving weekend or in the coming weeks ahead.
May you encounter God’s presence in blessings of all kinds as you guide your children toward resilient faith and “stronger gratitude muscles!”