Hardly a Thanksgiving season goes by without my remembering a special moment in Albany, Oregon, many years ago. My wife and I were enjoying our grampa and grandma time with our young family, and we attended a Saturday evening Spanish-speaking Mass.
Prior to the offering plate being passed, our son gave Katie and Claire some money they could put in as their gift. As the plate came to 21-month-old Claire, she dropped her dollar bill in and said, “Thank you.”
I was stunned. I’d never heard anyone say “thank you” as the offering plate came drifting by. At her toddler age, Claire had few words that were yet recognizable. She said “thank you” a lot, and not always as a “correct” response.
But don’t dismiss Claire’s wisdom! For while we might easily dismiss her toddler words, we dare not miss Claire’s innocent attitude of gratitude, which fuels her intuitive understanding of how God intends life to be.
She didn’t mentally understand what she said in that situation. But her grampa did. She was the right teacher at a moment I needed to be taught.
Gratitude is not merely the recitation of thankful words said at the “right” time. We may know those words but come up short on the attitude.
Claire didn’t have all the words, but she was learning what God intends for her to learn: She is deeply loved as a child of God. Now, at 19, she still easily says “thank you.”
I believe all children are born with that God-knowledge in every fiber of their being. Claire and Katie are fortunate to have parents who still daily reinforce their inner knowledge with outer acts of love, of acceptance, of disciplined direction. Sadly, not all children are that fortunate.
It has been that way for generations, hasn’t it? Some children’s intuitive sense of gratitude is nourished, while other children’s sense of gratitude is malnourished. So then we reap generations of adults who either nourish their children or do not. And so it goes.
There’s something biblical about sowing seeds and then reaping what we sow. Usually, it’s a warning about sowing bad seeds, negative seeds.
But this is a clarion call to sow good seeds in fertile ground. Our children are the fertile ground, friends. Our children and grandchildren know without words that their lives are precious gifts.
They’re born with an innate sense of “thank you.” They come to us with that wisdom. And they share their wisdom in the sneakiest ways, if only we have the eyes to see, the ears to ears to hear, the hearts to learn.
We adults are the seed bearers and scatterers – a great and wondrous responsibility, for sure. We exercise that responsibility most effectively when we find in every day a reason to say “thank you.”
Not a big thing, really. But sometimes it means a major attitude adjustment when the day is going lousy.
The Thanksgiving holiday comes around in three days. Try a simple experiment with me.
Each day between now and including Thanksgiving Day, be very conscious of the little things for which you are thankful – in your home, at work, with friends, even with strangers.
See each opportunity as an offering plate of sorts. Even as you fill a dinner plate on Thanksgiving, even as you prepare to put onto the plate your own life-offering, stop to remember where your gift, your “daily bread,” came from in the first place.
Who knows? Claire’s habit just might be habit-forming for you too, as it’s become for me.
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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