When my babies are small, I start teaching baby signs to help them communicate before they can talk. I don't teach them very many words... just mainly "more", "please", "thank you", and "sorry". It wasn't too difficult to connect words with meanings during the boys infancy, especially when I was parenting one-on-one. This time around, there has been less of that--- and by that, I mean the whole thing. I did try and teach signs, but going from child to child to child in everything changes the landscape of parenting. I have done more in a group and less individually just for the sake of expediting things before complete chaos ensues.
I did work on it some. There are battles I pick and others I do not. The baby signs (sometimes) battle hasn't always been on the top of the priority list. I know, I know. Maybe they will never be polite or ask for more juice. I gave it an effort anyway.
I have had one child that has pretty much always refused to say, "thank you". On a few occasions, I have forced it, taking her hands in mine, mimicking the motion. However, clenched fists, immovable elbows, and scowl doesn't communicate gratitude no matter how precise the motion.
The other day, I fixed cups of juice and proceeded to hand them out to the thirsty people. Then, a tiny voice cut through all the normal noise of mid-day activity. The clouds parted, skies opened, and beams of light accompanied the sound of pianissimo, soprano ahhhhhhhs as I heard the words,
"Tan-tu, mama." i.e. "Thank you, mama."
It came directly from the usually-protesting little one, with eyes that lifted up to meet mine. It broke through to the part of my heart reserved for precious, I-don't-ever-want-to-forget-this things.
It made me think--- I have forced thankfulness. But have I really? I have taught the words in sign or speech and the concept. I can certainly call it out when I think I don't see it, and that seems pretty obvious. Ok, sometimes really obvious. Conversely, a response that I know I have not elicited is more pure and beautiful. But how do I know what appears pleasant and compliant is true thanksgiving? Is it expressed transference of a soul trajectory? Or is it obedience? I know it is what I have told them to say or even be, so in part, I have commanded it. But is it truly a biblical kind of gratitude; one that would give thanks in all circumstances, juice or no juice? As a mother of five, I can confidently say, I don't really know. I know not one of my children has ever said, "Thanks Mom for correcting me," or "I really appreciate you doing what is best," when it feels painful to them. They obviously like when I give them stuff. So the answer is, definitely not always. Maybe sometimes like this time. How can I know? Should I scrutinize what I don't know? Should I discipline to correct what is only to be perceived in the heart?
I know if you are a mommy who has heard any sort of talk of parenting from a Christian worldview, you know what I am speaking about here. And maybe like me, you feel exhausted and overwhelmed ---even by this conversation and the above line of questioning. Or maybe you are a bit suspicious of trying to "train" the inner places that only God sees.
What I do know, if I am honest, is that I am not always thankful and not ever perfectly thankful. I know it as quickly as words leave my mouth with a request of my children. Almost immediately, my admonitions to them remind me of what I many times struggle to do. I know because as the Bible reads me, the standard of living a life characterized by thankfulness is made clear and exposes my own heart. Sometimes, I just forget, especially when God is so generously providing all my felt needs. I remember days when the brokenness of this life is visceral and factually provable that gratitude isn't what I naturally feel. And then, sometimes I do feel thankful.
So how thankful is thankful enough? All of the scriptures present lives that have been changed by the good news of Jesus as characterized by gratitude among other things. It pours out of God's chosen, holy, and beloved ones in song like in Psalm 100 and Colossians 3:16. And don't I know the consequences of an unthankful heart. Bitterness, envy, and complacency come to mind as well as impatience with everyone else and their seeming or real thankfulness (including my children's). Then there is the gospel on the whole. I cannot imagine a clear understanding of the redemption story in the work and person of Jesus without it. Where does all that go when life is pressing in? Do I put before me what I should be doing? Well, maybe it is in what Jesus has done.
I think specifically of Jesus right before His death. He served the bread and the cup of the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins with thanks (Matt. 26, Mark 14, Luke 22) to His disciples with the full knowledge that the cup that would be served to Him by His Father would be one of wrath. It would then be filled with His own blood. He participated in something we see as symbolic. For Him, the breaking and pouring was literal. When I align this one display of Jesus perfect thankfulness as a precursor to what it would then mean for Him, it proves His fulfillment of this law. Of course, there are more examples in His life and in His character, but this is the most compelling given the magnitude of the symbolism. He expresses gratitude for the meal that demonstrates His sacrifice for sinners such as me. In the face of death for His friends, Jesus is thankful.
As I go back to my thoughts about my children, I want them to be thankful---and not just thankful, but thankful to God. But that isn't up to me or something I can evoke. There is no recipe for it, no system to guarantee it. I can remind them of blessings in abundance. I can ask them to say "thank you" to those who help them as an act of love. I can teach them what God-honoring thankfulness looks like. But that only emphasizes what we--- they and I ---fail to do. We can talk together about how we aren't thankful. Then, I can tell them the story of Jesus and how He gave thanks in all circumstances and lived in perfect gratitude.
I can say lots of things. I may or may not be clear enough to meet them where they are on a given day. As I think of what I may say, I remember again what God has done. When I am not thankful, Jesus also passed the cup of forgiveness to me. And now, I am His.
Something else is more important than obedience or thankfulness. They are mine. They always will be my sons and daughters no matter their perceived? levels of thankfulness. Their position overshadows their compliance.
There are days when "Tane-tu, Mama" warms my heart. I thank God for it, give hugs, and a "You're welcome." I am reminded again of the gift of my children and what they teach me about my Father and His love for me. I pray I know more of His love so that I may accept them and give them what they need in love, even when soprano ahhs cease. I desire to be delighted in them and not in what they do. This is hard for me, y'all. It is all too easy to freak out and overemphasize behavior that makes me feel more successful as a mother. Sure, there are consequences when unthankfulness overflows into some action I can correct. But I pray that grace is a better teacher where commands fall short. True thankfulness is born of grace and of that, I am only a witness. The Spirit is capable and the Shepherd gentle and kind to hold their tender hearts as He is surely holding mine. We are all on this journey together learning more of God and His love for us. Grace is seeking us, friends and as the scripture reminds us, fruits follow.
Counting blessings is a good thing. Being thankful is what it right. But the grandest blessing is acceptance even when I am not thankful, clench-fisted, and partially immovable. Do you know this? If you are in Christ, wavering thankfulness is covered? That is something for which to be truly thankful.