I can remember as a teenager sitting around the Thanksgiving table and being asked to say what I was grateful for.
I rolled my eyes in protest of such a trivial exercise and rattled off a list of things I thought I was supposed to be grateful for: my family, my health, food, and shelter. And then I waited for my brothers to spout off things like farting and Nintendo before we could eat. At that time in my life I was selfish and entitled. Nothing was ever enough, teenage angst prevailed, and happiness always felt just out of reach.
I’ve never needed for anything and most of the people in my family and my life probably haven’t either. My children live in a world without need. My toddler doesn’t even know that TV shows only come on at certain times on certain days because the 15 minute episodes of Curious George that he watches are already cued up on the DVR when he wakes up from his nap. He wants banana chips and I pull them out of the cabinet, he wants to see dinosaurs and I take him to the museum. Like my own childhood, my son lives in a world without need but full of want.
I realized that children learn to want almost immediately. As soon as they can extend their tiny fingers to point and grasp, we give them anything and everything their little heart’s desire. And after a year or so of wanting and getting, they start to develop manners and perhaps take and receive a little more politely. But “thank you” is only thankful if you know it to be.
I wonder if the visceral pang of needing for something essential to life–food, water, love–teaches the heart to be grateful sooner. And more so if the endless fulfillment of frivolous wants makes us incapable of honest thanksgiving.
Several years ago a saw a quote that said, “What if you wake up tomorrow with only what you were thankful for today?” Up until that point most of my prayers were wants. Asking God to bless my family with health and happiness. Asking for guidance. Asking for peace. Lots of asking.
I read that quote and realized I would have woken up alone.
And waking up alone is the one thing I never want to happen.
So that quote has kept me mindful of all of the blessing in my life and has helped my heart to know what it feels like to be grateful. When I hear my children laugh. When I see my husband from across the room. When I write and eat chocolate and wake up on a beautiful fall day. I remember that feeling. I’m living the life I’ve always dreamed of, a life many people wish for and for some reason or another might not have. I wasn’t entitled to any of it and yet with a little work and a lot of love it all happened.
So at night when I climb into bed, I begin my prayers with gratitude. I’m humbly grateful for the happy life that at times I don’t even feel worthy of. And sometimes I ask for guidance and patience, but most nights sleep deprivation gets the best of me and I fall asleep before asking for a single thing. And it brings me peace knowing that tomorrow if I woke up with only my children, my husband, and the clothes on our backs, that my prayers would have been answered.
I want my children to know what thankful feels like, but I think I have to show them what being loved feels like first. I tell them how lucky we are to see the dinosaurs whenever we want to. We make our family time sacred and special. I show them how to give and share. We try hard to put lots of worth on simple things and little emphasis on frivolous things. And I teach them how to pray beginning with gratitude and ending with wishes. I can’t teach them thanksgiving, but if I raise them to see blessings, hopefully gratitude will follow. Because seeing my own blessings every day is what makes me grateful every night.