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Preparing Our Children to Have a Thankful Heart

Jessica Mudger

November 21, 2020

If there was ever a year to be thankful, it’s 2020. Yes, you read that correctly. I said we should be thankful for the year 2020. There’s no need for me to describe what events have unfolded over the year, as they have been blasted endlessly over all forms of media in all grim detail. You have undoubtedly experienced your own unique set of challenges brought on by the catalyst of 2020. 

This is precisely why this year, more than ever, we need to be thankful. Our thankfulness must prod us not to remember if our circumstances are good, but if the God we serve is good. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We must give thanks in ALL circumstances, whether or not we feel there is anything for which to be thankful. Further, if we as adults need help remembering to be thankful, our children need it all the more. 

If you have never had a holiday tradition that points to Jesus and our thanksgiving to Him, this is the year to begin. If you have felt tempted to exclude that particular detail of your holiday celebrations, I encourage you to resist it. As parents, we have walked this earth and had many opportunities to see the providence of God for decades before anyone knew the term “Covid-19.” For many of our children, however, this has been the first defining event of their lives. The way we live and, more importantly, trust and celebrate God in the midst of hardship will make a lifelong impression upon formative minds. We must choose to surrender daily to the Holy Spirit and allow His presence to penetrate our hearts that are so endangered of becoming hardened by the callous world around us. Let us choose to lift our hands and proclaim like Isaiah 25:1, “O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”

I am inspired by the events leading up to the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Jordan River in Joshua 4. Joshua 4:5-7 (NIV) says, “...Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” The point of collecting the stones was to serve as a reminder of God’s provision in that place for future generations. The eye-witnesses to the events would soon be gone and hardships would soon follow, but keeping a memorial of the event was a way to remember God’s goodness.


Psalm 9:1 (NIV) says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” But what if we have trouble remembering things for which to be thankful? The great thing about gratitude is that it’s like eating potato chips; once you start, it’s hard to stop. It’s a goofy simile, but you know what I mean. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude feels so great once you start, that it will be quite easy to keep it going. So let me get you started. The first thing to be grateful for: You woke up today. The Lord has given you another day of life. As Psalm 118:24 (NIV) goes, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Here’s another one: Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The same good God that led the Israelites across the Jordan in Joshua 4 is still in the business of loving and working miracles in us today. Our world may be changing, but rest assured God is not.

So how can we create traditions that point to Jesus and our thankfulness to Him? It can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Here are a few ideas:

  • Set up a small tree or sturdy branch in your home. Create or collect enough ornaments to hang on it to mark the days leading up to your very special celebration day. On each day, choose one family member to hang an ornament and make it special by sharing something for which you are thankful. Other variations: let each family member share what they are thankful for and hang the ornament as a group; or share a favorite Bible verse instead.

  • Display a manger scene of Jesus’ birth, or create or draw one of your own, and place it in an area where family members will see it often. Each night, gather around your display to tell a small part of the story of the birth of Jesus. Tell the final part of the story on the big day, and celebrate by singing worship songs.

  • Place a bowl on your dining table or eating area. Gather enough stones (or marbles, pine cones, etc.) to fill the bowl. Keep the stones in a separate location, and instruct family members to place a stone in the bowl every time they have something to share for which they are grateful. This will quickly become a game of “fill-the-bowl.” That’s great! If your bowl fills before the big day, just empty it and see if they can fill it again. 

Hopefully now you have got an idea of how to keep a spirit of thanksgiving in your home even in hard times. Above all, may we always remember that God is good all the time.​

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