Jenn and John, parents of Clay, 19 months, never intentionally taught their son to say thanks. Yet one day, in the midst of a rather long babble of conversation, the two heard Clay say “Thank you” quite clearly. “We stopped in our tracks,” says Jen. “It made me realize that Clay’s words reflect our married relationship, and we say ‘thank you’ to each other often.”
The importance of giving thanks is central to our Catholic faith. We look at Jesus, constantly offering thanks to the Father, and follow his example. We see him disappointed with nine of the lepers he cured one day, and we want to identify with the one who came back.
Yes, we may pray for the miracle, but part of our prayer includes the promise that if we get it, we’ll remember to give thanks. But will we remember? If we get that gift from God we’ve been praying for, will we pause to reflect and recognize who it is from, or will we view the gift as the result of something we’ve done or as something we deserve?
Tawnya, mother of four, says one of the most grateful moments in her life came as she was recovering from back surgery. While the surgery itself was successful, her gratitude came because of the many friends and community members who stepped forward to help her with meals, childcare, and household duties after the surgery. “The experience reminded me that I am most thankful for people. In the end, being grateful for relationships is most important and most rewarding.”
Our relationship with our children and the gratitude they show (or neglect to show) can nudge us toward identifying with Jesus, rather than the lepers, in the story of the cure.
“This gospel reminds me of when the mother works hard and makes a delicious dinner, and only one of her four children thanks her for it,” laughs Brigid, only partly joking.
Scott, father of two, adds, “Some children have a sense of entitlement—an expectation that their parents and others owe them something, that they should receive whatever they ask for.”
To combat this, Scott and his wife require their children to dip into savings to pay for extra items such as name-brand clothes. “This helps build gratitude when they do receive something special from us.”
Why did nine of the lepers not come back? Did they feel entitled to the cure? Did they believe that they should never have been afflicted by leprosy in the first place? Or were they procrastinators, people who meant to go back to say thanks but got sidetracked?
Perhaps the best way to mitigate a sense of entitlement in children is to ensure they feel a sense of gratitude even for the small pieces of life that are easy to take for granted.
Andy says he and his wife try to model this for their children. “We try to thank each other for small things, like ‘Thank you for making dinner,’ or ‘Thank you for doing the dishes,’ ” he says. This has, in turn, led their two children to be similarly thankful. “Today our son thanked my wife for taking him to the store to look at baseball cards,” he says.
The story of the 10 cured lepers can be a difficult one. Whether we see ourselves reflected in one of the lepers who were not sufficiently thankful, or in Jesus, who was not sufficiently thanked, the story shines a light on the frustration and hurt that accompanies ingratitude.
“This gospel hits a nerve,” says Kyle, father of two. “I know that I usually credit myself, and not God, for the gifts in my life. I think that too often I’m one of the guys who doesn’t come back to praise God. And I want to change that. I want to be the one Jesus is happy with.”
By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2013 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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Photo: © istock/Daniel Rodriguez