As I sat in a special room of my house the other day, I read the question posed in a Family Fun magazine article, “How do you teach your children gratefulness?” Well that got me thinking…how DO I teach my children gratefulness?
The way I see it, teaching gratefulness cannot be done without teaching compassion at the same time. They go hand in hand. I am always on the look-out for opportunities for our family to show compassion which leads to gratefulness in my children—well actually all of us. My children need to know what they have to be grateful for by seeing and experiencing that there are people less fortunate than they are. The Driver and I need to be reminded as well.
One year as we were in the process of adopting my daughter from Eastern Europe, we collected packages of underwear for the Ukrainian orphans because clean, new underwear for each day is something we so easily take for granted.
This past summer we traveled to the country of Haiti helping to get an orphanage off the ground. We went from having book knowledge about the statistics of Haiti to making it a regular part of our life to eat beans & rice for one meal each week—meditating on what it would be like to have one meal per day that is only beans and rice. We were impacted by Haiti in many ways, but one of the ways that seemed to remain on our minds the most was how many people do not have something as simple as a pair of shoes, yet they walk for miles. In contrast, we have shoes overflowing in our home and drive everywhere. Witnessing life in Haiti has caused us to be grateful for the food, clothes, the home we live in, paved streets, the car we drive, but especially for the shoes on our feet. We came home and began collecting new and gently-worn shoes from our friends and family to ship back to our friends in Haiti. In a few weeks time, we collected 475 pairs of shoes.
It is evidence to me that gratefulness is in the hearts of my children when I see them give up their Nintendo DS savings for the orphans in Haiti, give up a pair of their own shoes right off of their own feet for someone who needs a pair, put on a Hot Chocolate or Lemonade Stand on the street seeking to raise money for an orphan, or to willingly (and with excitement) dump out their piggy banks so they can contribute all they have to a fundraiser to bring another orphan home. They understand that to even have a family is something to be grateful for.
As you can see, our family has a heart for the orphan and especially those in other countries. But what about the people right here in our own community? Aren’t there people right under our own noses that need to be shown compassion? The answer is yes. We learned that in an up close and personal way this past year. Some of my children’s own friends were in need right before our eyes. We had taken them many places with us and I started to pick up from their conversation that they were not being fed before we picked them up nor after they got home at night. The lack of having food was becoming a common theme–it was happening more often than not. So my kids and I talked about what to do about it. We decided that picking their friends up early and making sure they ate a good meal with us was a priority and a subtle way to meet their needs without offending or embarrassing their parents.
To be honest, that was tough to see poverty in such a real way, but I realized in this particular situation, my attitude and my actions were pivitol. This was a teachable moment. How my children respond to someone in need will play out in the way they see me do it. Even something as simple as a new Mama needing a meal after she brings her baby home or someone who recently had surgery and is bed bound. Will I see the need and will I fill it? With what attitude will I fill the need? Will I do it by grumbling and banging my pots around as I make the meal or complaining about the extra drive or will I do it with humbleness and compassion? Believe me, I’ve done it the right way and the wrong way.
I recognize that we have an international heart, but The Driver and I have been talking more and more about ways to teach our children compassion and gratefulness throughout the year in our own community. What about serving the homeless at a soup kitchen or even more specifically how can we help the homeless Mama with her children? What about the low income neighborhoods? What about those friends we know that need some food? We certainly never want our children to think that only people in other countries are in need. So we must find a way to teach that compassion belongs right here in our own neighborhood and even in our own home.
By looking for ways to show compassion to those who are less fortunate than us, we have learned to be grateful for what we have. I can talk about gratefulness until I am blue in the face, but my children will not be grateful until they see what they have to be grateful for by working alongside those less fortunate or working on their behalf.
Lord, give me eyes to see those who are in need and the creativity to find a way for our family to make a difference. Let my children open their arms to the poor and extend their hands to the needy because of the compassion they have for others. May they always be able to see what they have to be grateful for.