Before our children have regenerate hearts, from babyhood, we as parents have the privilege, the joy, the challenge of teaching them how to honor the Lord in all their words, thoughts and conduct. We teach them the disciplines, habits, and manners of a Christian in anticipation of the day when they will follow Christ independently and honor Him from the overflow of their hearts. We teach them how to see biblically what is (or what is not) occurring in their hearts that establishes their behavior. We need a clear vision, an ability to see long term where we are going, to shepherd them from babyhood toward this end.
One critical area of shepherding our children is toward gratefulness. Nothing in the sin nature of man is grateful, yet we ought not to wait until our children have a new nature to teach them how to live gratefully. We must begin in babyhood to teach and train the daily disciplines, habits, and manners of gratefulness. Ungratefulness can rear its hideous head in our homes in an infinite number of ways, from the moment a baby begins to show his willfulness. This willfulness is the manifestation of a heart filled with the idolatry of being in control.
Young children do not need to be in control (making choices); they need a loving parent to be in control as God’s minister and require compliance to the Lord’s ways. As we select clothing for them, say when it is time to eat, sleep, go in the car, play in bed, etc., we have opportunity to shepherd our children to trust and gratefully follow our leadership, which one day will be transferred to the Lord’s. Toddlers can comply instantly and happily to any directive; we ought not to allow any complaint.
Family meal times are a key area of challenge. Three times every day at the family table, we have an opportunity to teach gratefulness to our little ones. We teach them to eat what is set before them without whining, complaining, arguing, playing, spitting out, etc. Teaching our children to finish meals that have been prepared for their enjoyment is important. Perhaps some will balk at this and question my logic. We have been influenced much by our suburban American culture and the plenty of our pantries and supermarkets. Most of the world does not live the way we live and the mindset abroad is a stark contrast to ours. It is our responsibility as parents to train our children to receive all food with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4:4). We honor dad’s loving labor by eating the food his hard work brings to every plate and we honor the one whose hands carefully prepared the meal for nourishment by embracing each meal offered; the meal not embraced and eaten will show up at the next meal before new food is offered.
A myriad of other opportunities beckon us daily to develop gratefulness in our young children. When a diaper has been changed, a bath given, a special blanket offered, a seatbelt fastened, or a story read, we must require a “thank you” from our little ones. Through the day as we notice God’s kindnesses, we ought to pause to offer spontaneous prayers of thanks together.
Will you teach your children to be grateful for the opportunities God gives to them as well as those given to others? Romans 12:15 exhorts us to rejoice with those who rejoice. This is key to healthy sibling relationships and friendships. God allots to every man his own blessings. It is our job as parents to foster a gratitude for one another and the gifts God gives us individually.
One of the ways we sought to teach our young children about God’s care for us as individuals was a graded dessert allotment. The one year old receives one bite of dessert, the two year old receives two bites, the three year old enjoys three bites, etc. Our allotment is not the same. If one child is in the room when Dad pulls a cookie out of the freezer and the others are nowhere in sight, they missed out that time on a nibble of cookie! When the others hear of it, it is their obligation to rejoice with the child who got to share a cookie with Dad. How would the Lord have you foster this confidence in the Lord’s individual care of each of us and His heart for us to celebrate with one another?
It is a constant battle in my home to stay on top of training gratefulness in my children and I constantly am in need of God’s wisdom and strength. But I must bear in mind that the goal is far greater than the satisfaction of hearing and seeing etiquette from my children. Gratitude honors the Lord. His worship is at stake. How did Jesus speak of the nine lepers who did not return to say “thank you.” Paul speaks to Timothy about the godlessness of the last days in II Tim. 3, saying that, “people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to the parents, ungrateful…..” This is the natural man.
We show a child his need for God’s help as we ask him to live gratefully. As the Lord helps our children to submit to this discipline, they are learning about God. Grateful conduct is a beautiful testimony to the unsaved family and neighbors in our midst. Let us not give our babies, our toddlers, our young children freedom to live ungratefully. Let us help our children to learn from babyhood to acquire the discipline of grateful words and body language. They will be grateful and the Lord will be honored.