Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Thanksgiving: not just a holiday

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Nov. 13, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell “Not crayons and paper, we sent those last year.”

“I pick the soccer ball. It comes with its own air pump.”

“But how do we know she likes to play soccer?”

“It’s the favorite game in her country. All the kids like soccer there.”

“What about the inflatable world globe? She could see where we live.”

And so went the discussion, our annual tradition of choosing a gift for Maria, the child we sponsor in Honduras. Like Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie About Schmidt, our family decided to send money each month to help improve living conditions in a poor region of the world. The commitment includes corresponding with a child there.

I wanted to help Maria and her community, and I wanted to share our family’s prosperity. But I also hoped give my children perspective, to help them see and be grateful for the abundance in their lives.

It’s difficult to know if I’ve succeeded. My children know Maria lives with only a pit for a toilet. They know her father has abandoned her and that the family lives in a hut with no electricity or running water. Although she goes to school only sporadically, Maria is a skilled seamstress and has sent us samples of her embroidery. My hope is that my children will understand not only Maria’s poverty, but her gifts as well. And that this will give them a lens beyond our cultural context with which to view their own circumstances.

No single practice is likely to insure that our children will grow hearts of gratitude. Like most habits, gratefulness must be continually cultivated. We take time during the Thanksgiving holiday to celebrate and voice that which, we hope, we are exercising daily throughout the year.

Our faith calls us to ask: How might things look different from the viewpoint of gratitude? Would my actions be altered if they stemmed from a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity? Do I see my position, money and power as merely payoff for my individual effort? What priviledge did I gain purely by being born into my time, place and family? Who are the people who have supported my endeavors or paved the way for my success or situation in life?

These questions could spark interesting dinner table discussion for families with teenagers. Parents reflecting on such queries will most likely experience trickle down benefits in their children. Families with pre-schoolers will want to start with basic conversations prompting little ones to identify God’s gifts in their lives.

Here are a few other ideas to help your children learn the habit of gratitude.

• Keep a blessing book. Some people use a beautifully bound blank book, but a spiral notebook from the grocery store works fine. Each night before bed write down things you are thankful for. As you fill the pages, you’ll have a growing record of God’s providence in your family life.
• Limit TV and trips to the mall. Children and adults alike are influenced by commercials designed, not to make us feel grateful and happy, but to create feelings of dissatisfaction and need. It didn’t take national research for me to know that the more time I spend in a store, the more likely I am to find something I “need” to buy. Simply seeing merchandise can make one feel discontent.
• Expose children to the wider world. If you can, take your family on a foreign trip to see how people live in other parts of the world. Involve your teens in some experience with the underprivileged. Young adults can spend a week building homes in Mexico or working with children in our own inner-city neighborhoods. Closer to home, take your children to volunteer at a local food bank or homeless shelter. Invite them to learn about the challenges people face in war-torn countries, poverty-stricken neighborhoods and areas of natural disaster through magazines, movies or TV programs.

This year think about making Thanksgiving more than just a holiday; make it a way of life.

© 2003, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)

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