Mentoring Monday Cultivating Thankful Hearts in Your Children


Johannes Evert Hendrik Akkeringa

Way # 9

"We are thankful for what we have, whether it is a little or a lot."

Memory Verse

"Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

I Thess. 5:16-18

Summers are always a time when our door swings open and closed constantly as we welcome friends from afar as well as adult children who want a reprieve from life. The past few weeks have been filled with company--friends close and acquaintances who needed a shelter from storms of life for a day or two. I, the mama, who it seems often holds the whole world together, (do you feel that way, too?), and have been carrying burdens, as well as the hearts of each one in my family and home, have been giving out constantly the past weeks. But it is a season in which God has asked me to be faithful.

I keep looking inside the hearts of those in my circle of care to check if they are ok and if I can help, love, encourage, or give in some way. I know it is not the things I provide or being a perfect host that my children and friends need. But someone to look into their eyes and notice them.

Early one morning this week, I forced myself out of bed, begowned and ruffled of hair and spirit, and put on the tea kettle, lit candles, poured 2 cups of tea and took a tray up to sleepy Joy.

"I just wanted a few minutes by myself with you, away from Sarah, Joel, and our company, to check your heart and to see what was swimming in your mind."

Under my pillow that night, "I have so many things, so many experiences, but what I want most is time alone with you. Thanks for noticing me this morning."

God's will is very clear and very straightforward--Rejoice, pray, and give thanks in everything. A heart that is grateful is a heart that is satisfied, content.

At this juncture in history, there are more things available to purchase; more entertainment, available 24 hours a day; more food; more material good than have ever been proliferated at any other time.

Yet "having more" has created a culture that is never satisfied, often in debt, dependent on pleasure and self-gratification in order to be content, while neglecting the greater needs of less fortunate people than themselves. As a result, the development of a strong character in children, has often been neglected. Children are coddled, entertained to death, and spoiled with expectations that can never totally be assuaged, which creates a complaining spirit, and self-pity if every gratification is not promptly met.

What is even worse, is that many parents have come to think that they are supposed to provide all of these things for their children so that they can be happy, instead of understanding, God wants them to cultivate children who have learned to be content.

Jesus, on the other hand, came into the world with no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him. No title. Few if any possessions. Choosing mostly fisherman, tax collectors, and common men and women to be his companions, he lived a simple, common life, with "no place of his own to even lay his head."

Yet, in this, He modeled to us a thankful heart.

Simplicity is one of the keys to having a thankful heart. For children, how important that they learn to be satisfied with playing at the beach or in a forest or digging in dirt. Enjoying an active imagination, pretending stories, drawing a tree or flowers, singing and dreaming under a shade tree.

The fewer choices children, (or adults), have, the more likely they will be happy and grateful for what they have been given.

 Many years ago, as a young, idealistic mama, I wanted to provide my children with all the best experiences, opportunities, books, toys, a playground, bikes, lessons--all of those things that we feel pressured to provide for our children. Yet, when we started Wholeheart Ministries, we moved to a tiny country town, (712 people), lived with my mother-in-law, and got by on a negligible salary for 5 years.

Shopping at Goodwill was our habit, as we could not afford department stores. Going to the grocery store sometimes made me feel guilty, because we just didn't have much money. Our budget didn't allow for all of the things I thought my children needed. Sometimes I would worry about what my children were missing because we couldn't afford many luxuries or "things" that I wanted to provide.


Thomas Eakins

Yet, living out on the country with lots of space to roam, few friends, lots and lots of time together as a family, is probably the best thing that could have happened to my children. Because we did not have lots of toys, our children learned to pretend, to create their own stories, draw and study nature, to make up games, read lots of books and to spend lots of time outdoor with animals, collecting fossils, building forts and gardening with me.

Because there was not even an option to have lots of "things", they became content with what they had. I was the only one who had any idea that they might be missing out on something cultural voices had told me they needed.. Life, to them, was a joyful, adventure where we had a little community called Clarkson, of which they were a part.There was no need to be constantly entertained because we did not have lots of media, gadgets, and toys, so they had not learned to expect them. There were few neighbors nearby to tempt them with toys they did not have.

Because we did not buy soft drinks when we were out as a family, our children did not long for something they had not come to expect. I distinctly remember when we were at a picnic with some friends, someone offered Sarah and Joel a whole can of coke to each of them. They looked at me and said, "Mama, they are giving us our own drink that we don't have to share with anyone! Isn't this fun! We feel so special!"

They were so very grateful for any small favor because our lives were simple and at the time, not very materialistic. I look back now and think that God was indeed actually answering my prayers to help my children to become godly--by not allowing me to have all of the things I read that children could have.

Working, waiting for gratification, sharing, patiently waiting for their turn in our family, all of these were the ways God built thankfulness into my children's hearts. I was not smart enough to choose this for my family, but God in His wisdom, knew just what my children needed to build character, and he used our circumstances to train them!

Enabling children by over-indulging them, is common in our contemporary culture. Yet, being spoiled and over-indulged creates a person who complains, whines and is weak in the day of adversity.

Don't get me wrong, we created a fun, challenging, interesting life for our children, amidst the daily grind of work, study, helping us in our ministry, learning to share and becoming a steward of their gifts. Creating times of celebration and appreciating after a time of hard work was a part of the warp and woof of our lives. But each child had to live in to his need to work, help and to learn to earn the money for something they hoped they could receive some day.

However, writing into our children's brains and hearts the wonderful quality of a thankful spirit, requires that we lead them to appreciate what they have and to be content with real life instead of material life. This is one of the most essential qualities for us to have a mature walk with God--the ability to praise and thank Him no matter what the circumstances.

This week, every day, notice the things that God has provided. Practice thanking Him for each way He has worked and blessed in your life. Have your children write thank you cards to friends of family for whom they are grateful. Breathing thankfulness into all the minutes of the days, creates a great pattern for life and helps you and your children to become more satisfied with what God has given.