Cultivating Grateful Hearts
Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas season has reared its red-nosed face. This year, for the first time, my boys have very specific requests for Christmas gifts. They have also requested “outdoor Christmas lights” which I have been dreading. When it comes to Christmas decor, I am of the “less is more” camp- meaning our tree hasn’t even been set up in three years!*
As we enter this season, I want to ensure that they understand the true meaning of Christmas and not just the commercial aspect. I hope to cultivate grateful hearts for the gifts they do receive but most importantly, for the gift of Jesus Christ and His birth. As we close out the Thanksgiving season, I hope that my boys have learned the importance of having thankful hearts and that this is evidenced in their attitudes towards Christmas.
Here are 3 things we are actively doing to try to cultivate grateful hearts for Christmas:
- The first thing we are doing to cultivate grateful hearts is choosing toys to donate. It is hard not to hoard toys when we have three boys at different developmental stages. But there are still so many toys that are broken or never used. Just as quantity does not equal quality, availability does not equal appreciation. If I want my children to appreciate their toys then they shouldn’t be surrounded by every toy and it’s brother. I chose some toys to donate and I had the boys choose some toys to donate so it was a joint effort.
2. The second thing we are doing to cultivate grateful hearts is keeping Christmas wishlists small. This is harder to do the older they get, so I suggest starting as young as possible. When I asked my boys if there was anything they wanted for Christmas they each said 1-2 things. I tried to probe for more ideas for the grandparents, but my husband thought it better to reinforce their small wishlist. Their items were around $7-15 each and they have remained consistent in those requests. If we have small Christmas wishlists when they are this young, then their expectations can remain small as they grow.
3. The third thing we are doing to cultivate grateful hearts is teaching them why we receive gifts. Christmas presents are not deserved or earned, but are given out of love. No matter what the gift, the purpose of the giving is to show love and that is something to be thankful for all the time. I hope my boys are as grateful for a pair of socks as they are of the Minecraft toys they requested.
We are not relying on November and Thanksgiving to teach our boys thankfulness. Cultivating grateful hearts is a year round, daily endeavor. We cultivate grateful hearts as we teach them to say “thank you” for a glass of water or a napkin when needed. We cultivate grateful hearts when we say no to new toys throughout the year, which teaches appreciation for what they have. We cultivate grateful hearts when we thank them for helping out or for being kind. We cultivate grateful hearts by teaching them the value of money and letting them spend their own money wisely and unwisely so that they learn through experience.
Most importantly, we cultivate grateful hearts so we all, parents and children alike, do not get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas. Instead, we focus our eyes and our hearts on the true reason for the season, the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord. My greatest aim in life is to know Jesus and to make Him known. I especially hope that He is known within the walls of my home and the hearts of my family. How can my boys know Jesus if they do not know His story? So we cultivate grateful hearts by remaining cognizant of the miracle of Jesus and thank Him for humbling Himself to come to earth. He is the greatest gift to all mankind. Just as my boys do nothing to earn or deserve their Christmas presents, no one can earn or deserve Christ’s love, sacrifice, and redemption (Romans 3:23-26). It is given freely out of love.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Our Savior was born to save a weary world. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and that is worth celebrating. So I hope to cultivate grateful hearts in my boys. I hope to cultivate a grateful heart in myself.
*Partly because of toddlers and the cat and the fact that we aren’t even home for two weeks around Christmas- not just because I’m a total grinch. Plus we enjoy the Christmas trees at the grandparents’ houses.