A few weeks ago I experienced something remarkable. In fact, the event stunned me. It occurred on a rainy, yet warm, Saturday afternoon in the beginning of October. It was one of those days when most parents keep their children inside, but I think some of the best times as a kid are spent running around outside in the rain. Besides, my kids have a lot of energy and are bouncing off the walls if forced to stay inside all day. During a break in the rain, my son and daughter walked with me to the pharmacy to pick some medication. They sought out and stomped in all the best puddles along the way. Upon leaving the pharmacy, they asked if we could take a longer walk so they could find more puddles around town. I agreed.
We found some very large puddles by Veterans Park in Youngstown, NY. The kids joyfully ran from puddle to puddle, equally excited about the experience of stomping in each new puddle. I stood and watched. It didn’t take long for another downpour to begin. This merely added to the fun, causing their joy to swell. I stood in the rain while the kids continued to play. This scene is actually not unique in our household. We often go for walks when there are puddles or run around in the rain or play in the snow or seek out snow banks to climb on. Sometimes I participate in the fun, and sometimes I stand watching. At times I enjoy these excursions, and other times they are exercises in self-sacrificial love. In this specific instance, I didn’t mind getting wet because I found joy in the joy of my children.
This experience of mutual joy is also not unique. My kids are excitable, and their joy is often noticeable. Sometimes they say, “this is the best day ever” or my favorite, “you are the best dad ever.” I fully appreciate those moments. Too often, however, my kids complain or seem entitled. They demand that I do more for them even after extended periods of daddy fun. It seems that I cannot appease their four and six-year-old selves. This is especially true of our four-year-old son. My wife and I have had many conversations about this issue. Are we spoiling them? Should we spend more one-on-one time with them? Is this age-appropriate behavior? Is this a personality trait? These are the questions that parents ask when their understanding is limited by their humanity. Yet on this day, amid the excitement of stomping in the biggest puddle, my son stopped, looked towards me, and, with a huge smile on his face, shouted, “Thanks for bringing us here Dad.” It was a simple statement, less exaggerated than some of the others they make, and I was stunned. It was the first time he had thanked me without prompting, and I found it surprisingly meaningful.
I love my children when they are both grateful and ungrateful, but I am far more pleased with their attitudes of gratitude than with their complaints and selfish demands. If I am pleased with my children’s moments of joy and gratitude how much more does God delight in our joy and thankfulness? Yet I admit that my children’s ungratefulness often mirrors my attitude towards my heavenly Father. I can easily find something to complain about: my back hurts, my kids are ungrateful, something is not going well at work, my spouse is imperfect, etc. The list of potential complaints can go on and on. And yet my attitude is contingent on the same basic issue that determines how my children respond to me. Am I considering all that my Father has done, does, and will do for me?
An attitude of thankfulness is central to a Christian’s faith, and it provides us with a proper perspective as we negotiate life’s challenges. Just as my children should be thankful for the fun, comfort, and stability that I provide, I should be thankful for the many blessings in my life. I am aware that many of these blessings are temporary. My happy marriage, children, job, house, and life comforts are good things, but focusing only on these does not produce a perspective that perseveres through life’s hardships. I will not always be healthy, “wealthy”, and surrounded by friends or family. Unexpected events are bound to happen and tragedy may occur. When these events occur I am free to voice my angst to God (see the book of Psalms), but crying out to God in moments of anguish is different than adopting an ungrateful or entitled attitude. The former is done with perspective. The latter is done with none.
God provides me with what I cannot provide my children and has done for me what I cannot do for them. An attitude of thankfulness is rooted in a proper understanding of grace and the hope it produces. In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer properly identifies that our adoption as sons and daughters of God produces hope through three truths. First, adoption includes a promise that we will inherit the entire estate of our Father (Gal 4:7; Rom 8:16-17). Second, this inheritance includes being made like Christ (our elder brother) in every way; we become “co-heirs with Christ…that we may also share his glory” (Rom 8:17; see also 1 Jn 3:2). This includes the perfect transformation of our body, mind, and character, something that cannot happen on earth. Third, in heaven we get to participate in a family gathering. I cannot articulate or even begin to grasp this last part of my inheritance, but I thought that Stephen Hay’s sermon effectively gave us a preview of what that might look like (http://wilsonfbc.com/portfolio/week-28-the-end/). Moreover, these rewards come because God poured out his wrath, which I deserved, on his beloved son (a much bigger sacrifice than simply standing in the rain). When my ungratefulness is positioned against these undeserved gifts, it is clearly unwarranted.
I am quick to see the reasons for why my children should be thankful for me yet loose sight of a far greater reason for why I should be thankful. I become frustrated with my ungrateful children while becoming ungrateful myself. The proper perspective ensures that we do not fall into these traps and become overburdened by the sufferings of this world. I have received a gift that never ceases. If you have not received this free gift, your Father awaits with open arms (Luke 15:11-33).