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The Skill of Gratitude

An Axis Course On Advent and Your Family

Ellie could hardly contain her excitement, and she could tell her seven brothers and sisters were just as thrilled as she was. When their parents started passing out that year’s Christmas gifts, their jaws dropped. What they saw was something they never expected, and she and her younger sister could barely contain their joy. With their gifts in hand, they began dancing around the house and singing together.

75 years later, Ellie still remembered that Christmas as one of her favorites, recalling to her grandchildren the magic and wonder she experienced from that one gift. So what was the gift that had sparked such exhilaration?

A simple, beautiful, delicious orange.

This woman and her family were quite poor growing up, and because they lived on a farm, they worked hard for everything they had. Delicacies like oranges were not only hard to get, but difficult to justify spending so much of their hard-earned income on. But that special Christmas, her parents decided to splurge, making it an unforgettable year.

All parents long to give their kids such a Christmas, one they’ll remember for years to come. But as Christmases go by, oftentimes kids struggle to even recall what they got the previous year, let alone five years prior. Why is that? Why is it that we spend so much money and exert so much effort getting them everything they hope for only for it to be completely forgotten in a matter of months?

Often, it comes down to one thing: perspective.

We forget that we live in a world of plenty. We then forget what a privilege, blessing, and responsibility it is to live in such a world. We forget that people have to sacrifice and work hard for the things we have. And because we forget, we begin taking it for granted, expecting to get what we want. Whether we realize it or not, this perspective—not the lack of having what we want—is at the root of our disappointment, discontentment, and unhappiness. It wasn’t the orange itself that was so magical and exciting; it was receiving such an unexpected bounty for which their parents had to sacrifice that left an indelible mark and brought such tremendous joy.

So how can we and our kids shift our perspective away from envy, entitlement, and expectation back to gratitude and contentment? We start by recognizing the sacrifices made by others and by realizing that gratitude is a habit, not something that happens overnight. And like all habits, it takes time and practice to master. The more we choose gratitude, the easier it becomes to be grateful and to find things to be grateful for. The more we practice recognizing what we have, the easier it becomes to notice the gifts we’ve been given and the less we’ll feel envious of what others have.

This Saturday, we want to encourage you to cultivate the perspective and habit of gratitude in a unique way. In order to do this, you’ll need to ask your kids what their favorite desserts are (you may already know, but they could’ve changed, so just double check). On Saturday, your whole family will make those desserts together, so plan to get the ingredients for the desserts ahead of time. There will be more to the experience, but we’ll save those instructions for later in the week.

Action Steps

Start planning Saturday’s gratitude experience:

  • Ask your kids what their favorite desserts are.
  • Buy the ingredients sometime before Saturday.
  • If any of the desserts are more involved, do what prep work you can ahead of time (i.e. if the dough needs to sit for a couple days, make it early). You don’t want the baking to take more than a couple hours.
  • Plan to make enough for yourselves and some to give away. You’ll make the desserts together, eat some while you have a conversation about joy and gratitude, and then take some to others who could use some joy and encouragement in their lives.