As with most new moms, when our first baby was born, I knew that one my jobs was to teach her good manners. You know the “please and thank you’s” and the “yes ma’ams and yes sirs.” Since hand coordination develops before verbal communication, way back in the 90’s the newest parenting thing was to teach toddlers simple sign language. I loved using hand motions to train our kiddos in the skills of politeness even before our daughters could speak.
The first sign I taught our first born was the hand motion for “please.” It looks a bit like a tap on your heart. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it? However, initially her hand motion looked more like a chicken (or turkey) flapping one wing! But at least she was a polite chick, right? The next sign I taught was “thank you.” The hand motion for this sign looks like blowing a kiss, your hand extending from your mouth to the one you are thanking. Yes, at our house we actively practiced “thanks-giving” at every meal-time, play-time and even bed-time.
Teaching thanksgiving FOR God’s blessings increases happiness!
Teaching our children to give thanks for their blessings is polite, no doubt. We should train them to express gratitude whether through a simple hand motion as a toddler or a thank-you note as a teen. That’s what good parents should do. Incorporating thanks into our daily life cultivates an attitude of gratitude. It tramples upon the spoiled seeds of entitlement that are planted so pervasively in our culture. It increases happiness as we focus on our “haves” versus our “have nots!”
How can we water the seeds of thankfulness on ordinary days? As a mom, first pray for eyes wide open to SEE God’s blessings, to SAY thanks for His blessings. This is what Heart of Womanhood is all about. Verbally praise Him for the sunrise, hot water or the kind response from your daughter. Take God’s parenting lead in personal thankfulness and apply it to biblical womanhood. As you travel to school each morning or sit at the dinner table prompt everyone to share “one thing you are thankful for today.” Text a one line “I’m thanking God for…” to your teen. In these daily ways, our next generation sees thanksgiving as a lifestyle, not a day on the calendar. They learn ThanksLiving!
When daily ThanksLiving becomes our lifestyle, then our annual celebration on the fourth Thursday of November will be stuffed with more praise than our plates! Just as you intentionally prepare for sharing a Thanksgiving meal, prepare intentionally for a specific time to give thanks as part of your celebration… (Note: Our Five Favorite “Recipes” for Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving are included following this post) …Because teaching our children daily and annually to give thanks FOR God’s blessings is polite. It’s what good parents should do. But teaching our children to give thanks BEFORE God’s blessings is truly powerful! It’s what Godly parents can do.
Teaching Thanksgiving BEFORE God’s blessings encourages holiness!
Once our toddler became a talker, “dank do” (translation: thank you) was one of her first verbal phrases. Each morning we practiced saying “please” before lifting her from the cozy crib and giving her a bottle of milk. Once breakfast was in hand, we practiced saying “thank you.” One morning, my momma’s heart smiled especially wide as I heard Teal in the crib saying loudly, “Dank Do! Dank Do!” I walked upstairs and entered her room to see her standing arms uplifted. Yes ma’am, she was saying “Thank You” even before she could see me or her bottle. She trusted that the blessing was coming. She trusted that the “bless-er” was coming! Her thanksgiving preceded the blessing, and ours should too.
Unlike our toddler, unfortunately, I am more like God’s children, the Israelites, when it comes to giving thanks BEFORE the blessing. After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites experienced first-hand God’s miraculous provision for their deliverance. As they left the shackles of Egyptian slavery in their rear-view mirror, the Israelites headed for their promised land. They were thankful and free. However, their praise quickly pivoted to panic. Their freedom flipped to fear. Why? Because they came to an impasse. With mountains to the right and left, the flooded Red Sea in front, and Pharaoh’s army breathing down their back, their thankfulness turned to thankless-ness faster than you can say “promised land.” Exodus 14 paints the picture:
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “…What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? …It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:10-12)
One man, Moses, responded differently. Faithfully. Thankfully. “Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14) He stood firm believing in what God WILL DO rather than only in what He had done!
And you know the story. GOD SHOWED UP BIG! Moses’ thanksgiving preceded God’s blessing. By faith, when Moses raised his staff, God performed a miracle parting the sea so that one-million of His children walked across on dry ground. And the army pursuing them? They drowned at God’s command. What did God’s children do in response to this miracle—this blessing? They did what any good mannered, polite kiddos do. With dry feet safely on the other side of the Red Sea, they said “thank you!” Exodus 15 is an entire song of thanksgiving to God.
Their song was fine. It just wasn’t a song of faith. As David Wilkerson once voiced, “They sang the right song, but on the wrong side.” Yes, it is polite to sing a song of thanksgiving…post blessing. It’s even more powerful to sing our songs of thanksgiving prior to God’s work!
I want to be more like our toddler with a thankful heart before her bottle was in hand. Before being lifted from her crib. I want to be like Moses who thanked God before He was blessed. I want to be like Jesus who modeled giving thanks to His Father prior rather than post blessing—singing the right song on the right side.
Jesus Taught Thanksgiving BEFORE blessing!
Whether Jesus was faced with feeding over 5,000 hungry people (John 6), raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11), or even breaking the bread at the Last supper before being broken on the cross for our salvation (Mt 26), JESUS GAVE THANKS BEFORE the blessing! Thanksgiving preceded provision, resurrection and even salvation! If Jesus gave thanks before blessing, we should too!
Like our toddler from the crib saying “thank you” before receiving the “blessing,” most families routinely offer prayers of thanksgiving before receiving food at meal time. That same sweet pattern applied to all areas of life can teach our children daily ThanksLiving. So keep giving thanks to God for the many blessings you have seen, received, touched and enjoyed! But also thank Him in advance for the blessings you are still trusting Him for. The dreams yet to be realized, the miracles you want in your marriage, the resurrection of hope in your home, the salvation He promises no matter what you “cross” in this life. Giving thanks BEFORE blessing encourages us to holiness.
Teaching that God is our best BLESSING is highest!
Thanking God before we receive blessing isn’t about what we are entitled. It all about Who we trust. It’s definitely not teaching our kids to rub the “thanksgiving” genie lamp expecting God to give us every whim. It means even before any blessing is received, we are trusting Him.
If we want to parent according to God’s will, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 gives us one sure parenting teaching point we can pass onto the next generation. “IN everything GIVE THANKS for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” Not give thanks FOR all things. But give thanks IN all things.
When hard things happen? When the car won’t start? Will we first say “I thank you, Lord. I trust that You, God, will work this together for good.”? Because the highest form of thanksgiving is not about treats FROM God but trust OF God. It’s about being grateful for His Presence not His presents. When I was a young mom complaining about my circumstances, my mentor would remind me, “Darlin’, remember we all actually deserve hell and anything short of that is a blessing!” This momma definitely needs reminding not to be “blessing focused” but “Bless-er (God) focused!” I need to remember that GOD. IS. MY. BLESSING! (see Gen.15:1)
Outside the crib each morning, days with my toddlers in those early years included many moments when their arms were raised toward me. No bottle in my hand, their own uplifted hands were simply a sign of wanting to be close. They were not seeking something from my hand but my heart. Wanting my presence. Wanting to be raised up higher. I was the blessing they were seeking.
Yes ma’am. Thanking God FOR His blessings encourages happiness. Thanking God BEFORE blessings increases holiness. But, living with arms and “hearts” uplifted as we seek the One Who is our BEST BLESSING is the highest form of ThanksLiving. It’s the highest form of sign language that we can learn. It is the highest love language we can teach the next generation of ThanksLiving ladies!
The Wigginton’s Five Favorite “Recipes” for Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving are (we incorporate one of these plus a family prayer time in our celebration each year):
- Place five kernels of corn at each plate. (A Pilgrim legend explains that each person was rationed only five kernels of corn each day during their first winter in this new land.) As part of our feast we take time for each family member to share five of their blessings from this past year. This is what you call popcorn praise!
- Position a Bible verse about giving thanks at each plate to read aloud following dinner.
- Place a large pumpkin in the center of the kids table. With colored markers let the children write words on the pumpkin describing the things they are thankful for. After dinner, let them read the things they wrote to those sitting at the grown-up table!
- Challenge each family member to write a thank-you note (or 2 or more) to an individual(s) they are especially thankful for that year. At the dinner table share who you wrote your notes to and why you thank God for them!
- Our personal favorite is the “Blessing Basket.” Invite everyone to write ten special “blessings” from this year on slips of simple paper. (Our “littles” draw pictures!) Place all these hand-cut papers of praise in a basket. At the end of the meal, ask each person to take a handful of blessings to read aloud as a heartfelt harvest song of Thanksgiving to God.
Kim Wigginton is a Christ follower. Married to Steve for over 30 years, they live blessed by their three grown daughters. With a heart for encouraging other moms and their girls, Kim is author of the Portraits Bible Study Series and founder of Heart of Womanhood Ministry. An uplifting writer and speaker, Kim enjoys creative arts and athletics, sunshine and smiles, God’s Word and God’s girls! She lives in Louisville, Kentucky and serves at Southeast Christian Church.