A Virus Worth Catching
- Kristin Shockley The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
- 2011 27 Dec
We visited the playground on a stunning autumn morning. After a burst of rainy days, the sun was shining and a breeze was blowing through yellow leaves. It was cool enough for the children to wear sweaters but still warm enough to need a thermos of drinking water—a perfect day. But it wasn’t. The toddler cried because I was nursing the baby instead of pushing him on the swing. The preschooler whined because no one would play with him. I grumbled because they were unhappy.
In a society focused on the gratification of self, it is easy to become entrenched in a feel-good doctrine. We feel entitled to the way we’ve decided things should be, and when tough circumstances come instead, it is our nature to feel offended—to believe we are owed more. Only when we intentionally stop and adopt a spirit of gratitude for all things and all situations do we begin to realize that everything we’ve been handed is a gift.
It is natural to want to please ourselves, but God is calling us to go beyond the natural. From the beginning of time, man has felt the pull to please himself. In the Garden, the serpent told Eve that if she wanted the fruit of the tree, she should eat it. The words of God took second place to Eve’s personal desires, but we are called to die to our fleshly natures. Therefore an attitude of thankfulness must be intentional; it does not happen on its own without careful cultivation.
When I settle the baby for bed and carefully lay her on her mattress just as the toddler squeals and wakes her, my natural instinct is to bite and react. Choosing not to whine or complain begins as an act of my will. Choosing to be thankful for happy children and exuberant giggles will stretch me further. My mind may tell me that the toddler is to blame and that I am owed an easy, quiet evening, but my spirit is urging me to a higher calling—laying down my life and my words to do and say what is pleasing to God. Controlling the tongue and controlling the heart take work.
After months of house hunting, we finally found a home that fit our growing family and was within our budget. We made an offer, which was accepted, and we began to tell our friends and make big plans, but a phone call from our real estate agent a week later revealed that the seller was having second thoughts and was unsure of signing the contract. So sure that this house had been the one God had chosen for us, it was hard to find words of gratitude in this changing plan. Words of complaint were much easier to come by, but when lips are closed to complaining, eyes are drawn upward. Philippians 4:6 says, “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
In those days of let-down and worry, when I felt tempted to grumble, question, and ask why, I chose instead to whisper a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you, Lord, for the home we have now. Thank you that even though it is small, it keeps my family safe and together. Thank you for the knowledge that my future is in Your hands.” Even though we didn’t understand His purpose, we began to thank Him for His plan and ask Him to continue guiding us. Instead of the bitter taste of negative words and thoughts, I found immediate relief—not a relief that wiped away the pain of disappointment, but a relief that the situation rested in the hands of a loving and giving God.
As you begin to chip away at the habit of complaint and choose instead to be thankful, you begin to revel in the ordinary. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) Sometimes we need to make an effort to look for something to be thankful for. When the bitter words bubble under the surface, pray for gratitude. God offers grace to our human hearts and helps us to see His gifts. With an intentional, thankful heart, eyes can become opened to small blessings: the ruffled morning hair of a toddler, the hum of the washing machine, the scent of soap. When a rainy day leaves the children stir-crazy in the house and leaves you suffocated by their energy, thank the Lord for voices and dry walls. When the baby splashes water all over the bathroom floor . . . again . . . and you want to grumble as you mop puddles off of the bathroom floor you haven’t had time to clean, thank Him for a healthy babe and clean water and a now-clean floor too. If you purpose to radiate gratitude, you find reason to pleasure in all things: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
If you don’t make a way to ingrain the intentions into the habit of life, even the best of intentions can get swept away in the flow of life. Keeping a record of thankfulness on paper is a tangible and visible way to remember the blessings bestowed on us. I keep ink and paper handy to scratch out gratitude throughout the day. Whether I am thankful for flowers or sun or quiet or lunchtime smells or clean socks or warm bed blankets, I try to maintain a habit of scribbling down a few words. There have been stretches of time when I neglected this habit. When I was drowning in morning sickness, I didn’t record a word for weeks, but when I returned to my habit, the reward was sweet. Whether you keep a journal for this express purpose or doodle lists onto the margins of your lesson plans, pausing for a few minutes amidst a busy or a bad day brings the focus back to our Giver.
Of course, not every day is rosy: The children catch a virus when Daddy has to work late. You realize that the potatoes for the soup are going bad and the washing machine didn’t rinse the clothes. The phone is ringing, the house is dusty, and it’s raining. Even the most cheerful among us have days when nothing seems worth being thankful for. Peek back at your journal of thankfulness and see how grace has been reflected in your life even when you can’t see through the cloud.
Children are born into a sinful world and expect to be coddled from birth. “I want . . .” and “I don’t like . . .” pepper my children’s speech, so I strive to ingrain the habit of thankfulness into the family atmosphere too. Even children who are too young to write can participate in a daily habit of gratitude. We have established a specific time each day when we reflect as a family. (Mealtimes work well, but any time will do.) Each person from Dad down to toddler can share one thing he is thankful for—a brother, Legos, a day off from school. There are no rules. Anything large or small, life-changing or insignificant—anything that one is truly thankful for is worth speaking aloud. Incorporating this time of praise into our family culture can be a balm to the soul on a weary day. “. . . Talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)
The habit of gratitude is as catching as a virus too! Just as a virus runs rampant in our household of seven, grabbing hold of us one by one, so does the spirit of thankfulness. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Among my family, my cheerful heart is medicine for my children. When I take time to intentionally notice what God is handing forth and what He is gifting to me, my children notice and open their own hearts to the blessings of our Lord. We live in a fallen world. We walk daily in the midst of pain and sin and injustice. We see hurting people and unfair situations. We fall and struggle to get up. The van breaks down. A friend speaks words of anger, bruising the heart. But even in the midst of pain, we know that our Lord has given us the gift of life and the gift of His grace.
Grace. Without it, I am nothing. Nothing, I am, without it.
And so, I humbly bow before my heavenly Father and accept what He gives, daily, and without question. The act of intentional gratitude is my act of submission and my act of praise.
Kristin Shockley has been married to her sweetheart, Brian, for ten years. Though she homeschools their five children, she often finds that the children are teaching her! Kristin enjoys reading, blogging, talking, and learning to knit in life’s spare moments. To join her on her journey, visit her at from-my-life.blogspot.com.
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse®Magazine, Fall 2011. Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com to view a full-length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at Publisher@TheHomeschoolMagazine.com.