The other night we sat down for dinner as a family. The harvest pumpkins and the wheat bouquets were out, the candle was lit, and all four of us gathered to share a meal around the table. It almost feels like a miracle, something as simple as sitting all in one place at one time. No sports practice, no real estate open house, no ministry meetings, no parent teacher conferences. My favorite three people all in one place. This togetherness felt like an Amen so we skipped our rhythmic prayer before dinner and jumped right into something else.
I don’t remember what we ate, but I do remember saying “Let’s go around and do happys and crappys!” And Bella said “Do you mean roses and thorns?” I thought that was clever and said “Yes, thaaaat!” If you have never done “happys and crappys” or “roses and thorns” before, I promise you it might be your saving grace if you are a parent of a disengaged pubescent teenager whose favorite words are whatever, fine and duh.
Basically each person shares a great moment from their day, and a not so great moment. ‘Yes’ and ‘no’ answers aren’t an option because there are no questions. At least at first. Each person is invited to share story. Sometimes it is quiet at the start, but usually at our house one of the kids just takes off and the next thing you know we are hearing about the places they are feeling most victorious. A proud smile peeks out in the telling of a good grade or a compliment from a teacher. It is in story that we engage each other’s worlds and laugh, and maybe even cry. As we do, even the sassiest of teenage punks rarely sees further questions as a nuisance. Instead, they begin answering our questions gladly as if they are painting a more colorful picture they want us to see with every stroke of an answer.
So we took turns sharing. We all shared, even us parents, describing the places where we felt like we had failed, or disappointed ourselves, or let down another. I think it’s good for kids to know parents struggle, and good for parents to know kids have victories. Our stories drew us together. One minute we were laughing about some fart outburst in class, the latest boy-girl crushes, new discoveries in our Milky Way, and the next minute we were talking deeply about the change we really want to see in our lives or the lives of those we love.
At the end of dinner, the roasted vegetables were half eaten, the table was a mess, and the dishes needed to be done. But instead of hurrying up to do homework and clean and make lunches and brush our teeth and on and on, we held hands. With full bellies, we gave thanks. We usually give thanks with empty tummies. But this time we prayed after dinner. I highly recommend it. We do that sometimes. It is then that we don’t take for granted the sustenance in our bellies and the fullness in our hearts. When we say thanks after dinner we don’t take for granted that all four seats are taken. We say grace after we eat for the grace which we have found in our story together. So the other night we thanked God for the food that satisfied both our pallets and our need. We even thanked God for broccoli. We thanked God for laughter and farts and friends at school. We thanked God for this table and these people around it. And then we asked for the same God who blessed us with the happys, to help us in the crappys.
Oh what a joy it is to have your kids pray on their own for the places as a parent that we need peace and encouragement, and then in the very same breath laugh their amen aloud. Giving thanks together will not always be this easy. Some days and seasons we won’t have happy stories to tell and at other times it will be all we have to share. The beauty is in thanking God together, who is here in both the highs and the lows.
So often when we give thanks to God it is because things are going good. We say thanks for good days, promotions, hot dates, coffee, financial aid, vacations, and not getting pulled over by the cop. Job confronted this way of thinking when his wife was complaining about her life. He said “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”
What about us?
Shall we accept life and not death?
Shall we accept laughter but not tears?
Shall we accept health but not sickness?
Shall we accept sun but not rain?
Ambrose of Milan spoke to this saying, “I cannot be ungrateful to God, for I must rather rejoice that I had such a brother than grieve that I had lost a brother…who would think that he ought to be excepted from the lot of dying, who has not been excepted from the lot of being born?”
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Giving thanks is God’s will in both the victories and the failures. Partly I think this is so because digging deep for gratitude when it’s hard is often what walks us out of crappy back into happy. Giving thanks makes us have to look for the gems in the rubbish. It causes us to have to search for the positive swimming in the negative. Giving thanks beckons us toward being a people of hope rather than dismay. And giving thanks reminds us that God is God in the good and the bad. Though our circumstances change, our God does not.
The older my kids get, the more I find the invitation into being a grateful people more and more significant. Entitlement, first world problems compared to third world problems, the misuse of the word “need” being confused with the word “want,” and the growing difference between the poor and the rich, can easily find us only praying when life is crappy or life is happy. Inviting our kids into a life of faith only in need, or only on top, confuses the presence of God and the power of God. But inviting one another into faith despite circumstances, might potentially be our greatest key to walking mountaintops with humility and valleys with an unwavering faith. We know our children will experience both, life’s disappointments as well as life’s joys, and it will be in both that we hope they remember God is God. God here, present, powerful, good, alive in the happys and the crappys.
My hope is that we would be people who gather around a table with full bellies when happiness rains, giving thanks as much as coming before God when happiness has been sucked dry by a severe drought. In the good and the bad, may we find gratitude because it is there we find God together. If we can be a people who before dinner or after, carpooling or not, hungry or full, in a pew or a papasan, come together sharing in life’s ups and down and yet still giving thanks, we will together see the roses as beautiful, despite the thorns.
What rhythms, prayers, table games or family traditions do you partake in to give thanks? Let’s learn to lean into gratitude together by sharing with each other here…..