The week before school began, at Meet the Cougars, a new high school student approached me. This young man had been away from Grace for a couple of years, and was now returning. He approached me, enthusiastically shook my hand, and thanked me for helping him return. He told me how much he had missed our school, and how excited he was to be coming back. That kid made my whole night. His gratefulness for our school, very simply expressed, spilled onto me and made me grateful for him and for the God who brought him back to us.
The following Sunday, one of our high school teachers was baptized at Grace church. This teacher had been a Christian from his youth, but expressed that teaching here has been a special experience for him. He was thankful that he has the opportunity to share his relationship with Christ through his work at Grace, and declared that being baptized in front of some of his students was one more way to express his gratefulness to the Lord, as well as to once again lead his students. As I watched his father-in-law bring him out of the water, I lost it. Once again, this young leader’s gratefulness washed over me, reminding me of the power of the cross to save, to heal, and to testify.
These two examples, happening within a few days of each other, remind me of the power of gratefulness to transform lives. Cultivating gratefulness in our kids is the best thing we can do for them, after leading them to faith. Paul tells us “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:18. This command is not given to make our lives harder, but better. Studies prove this out. Gratefulness makes you a happier person, improves your mental health and the quality of your life, reduces fear and anxiety, strengthens your faith, gives you peace of mind, and emboldens you to reach your goals. Gratefulness does all this because God made us to be grateful.
But, we don’t trend toward gratefulness. It’s why negative news gets reported and spread more readily, or why it’s virtually impossible to turn away from a car wreck, or two people fighting, or why it’s such more tempting to relate to others through complaining and gossip than through gratefulness. It’s easier because it’s our default. We don’t want to be that way, but we see life through the paradigm of a world broken in sin.
When we’re ungrateful, we usually end up with a sense of entitlement: things that we’ve been given are things we’re owed, because we’re special, or we work hard, or we’re so talented. When you think about it, entitlement denies the whole reality of the gospel. When you boil it down, the hard truth of the gospel is this: You and I deserve hell, and the great thing is that we don’t get it. Instead, we get eternity with God. This truth should make us really, really grateful, but most of the time it doesn’t.
The good news is we can actually do something about it; we can rewire our hearts and minds for gratefulness. Gratefulness isn’t a feeling, first and foremost, but a discipline, like prayer and Bible study, and the other spiritual disciplines. It has to be worked out, like a muscle, but like all other disciplines, the more we do it, the easier and more natural it becomes. Every truly grateful person you ever met, all those people who are really wonderful to be around and who exude God’s grace, started off as ungrateful people. By God’s strength and power, they disciplined their hearts to be grateful, and so can we. I’m going to work on it this year. Will you join me?
First, I’m going to begin each day thinking about something I’m grateful for, and thanking God for it. It may be something objectively good, like the fact I don’t get writer’s block very often when I sit down to write these blogs, or for the Peanut Power Plus smoothie at Smoothie King, or for my dog, Bo, who loves me even when I’m acting like a jerk. It may be for something that is a hidden blessing, like the fact that my ADD, which used to drive my teachers crazy and made school difficult for me, makes leading a school and switching mental gears 10,000 times a day, addressing everyone’s challenges and issues, way, way easier. Or, it may be real challenges that God is using to bring forth goodness and fruit, like emotional pain, or loss of friends or family. I’m beginning each day thinking about something new, and ending each day thinking about something God did for me that day, and thanking God for it.
Secondly, I’m thinking about one person every day that I’m thankful God put in my life: a friend, a co-worker, one of those “extra grace required” people who teach me how to love better. I’m trying to think of a different person every day, then text them or write them a note to tell them why I’m grateful for them, as a blessing to them, and a prayer to the Lord (note: I probably won’t tell the “extra grace required” people that this is why I’m thankful for them!).
These are really simple things, small disciplines, and practices I can share with my children. Can you imagine what would happen if our whole school community was transformed into grateful people? Grateful people point back to God for the things they’re grateful for, and are deeper and better lovers of God. I’d like to be a part of that kind of school community, and send my kids to that school. Wouldn’t you? It’s up to you and me.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.