How Gratitude Maximizes Our Joy
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Sam CrabtreeSam Crabtree is a former public-school teacher. He is currently Chairman of the Board at Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He is the author of Practicing Affirmation and Parenting with Loving Correction: Practical Help for Raising Young Children. Sam has been married to his wife Vicki since 1973. And has written her a daily note for over 40 years.
There is good that can come from some of our most difficult circumstances. Pastor and author Sam Crabtree speaks about the benefits we receive in practicing gratitude in the midst of hard times.
How Gratitude Maximizes Our Joy
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 19th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We read in the Bible that God is working everything in our lives for good for those who love Him/for those who are called according to His purposes. Sam Crabtree joins us today to help us understand how, as a result of that, we can give thanks in all things. Stay with us.
Bob: And to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When I was in the—I think it was seventh grade—our family took a family spring break trip from St. Louis to Panama City Beach, a week in Florida as a family. My parents told me that I could invite a friend to go along. I asked my new best friend Tom Darr, who we’d just met, “Do you want to go to spring break with us?” He said, “Yes.”
We were having a great time. Well, Tom—I don’t know if his mom and dad taught him this or if this was just his temperament or personality—but throughout the trip, anything we would do—like at the end of any lunch or dinner, or walk down to the beach, or whatever, Tom was like: “Thank you very much,” “Thank you very much.” I mean, it was just to the point, that my mom started laughing at how often Tom said, “Thank you very much.”
It kind of became a family joke. After vacation was over, we were: “Thank you very much,” “No; thank you very much.” We were going back and forth with that.
Ann: This is a good kid to take on vacation.
Dave: He is good; but I to tell you, Bob: you sound like Elvis when you say, “Thank you very much.” [Laughter]
Bob: Thank you very much; yes. [Laughter]
We’re talking about how important practicing gratitude is this week, and we’ve got Sam Crabtree joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Sam, back.
Sam: Thanks. It’s nice to know Bob Lepine “ain’t nothing but a hound dog—[Laughter]
Bob: —“crying all the time!”
Ann: Well, every mother is hearing this, thinking, “How do I get my child to be grateful?”
Bob: And that’s part of what we want to talk about today. Sam has written a book called Practicing Thankfulness, which, as the title implies—and we’ve already talked about—this may be an innate personality type for some people; but this is something that takes practice/that takes work. You don’t get better at it—just like football or any other sport—you don’t get better unless you are practicing this.
Ann: Especially when our aren’t great.
Bob: Yes; let’s start where Ann was taking us here. How can we, as parents, cultivate, and train, and instruct our kids? Is it just teaching them to be polite, or does it go beyond that?
Sam: Yes; one of the observations I would want to make from the get-go is that I don’t think the practice of thankfulness is mainly just good manners; you know? You teach your children to say, “Thank you,” as the obligatory social sign-off of a transaction of some kind. I mean, that’s not bad to teach your children good manners, including to say, “Thank you,”—that’s good—but what we want to grow is the earnestness from the child’s heart so that they have lips that say, “Thank you”; but the hearts are not far from the “Thank you.”
Sam: There is an actual valuing that grows in the heart of the child.
“How do you get children to do it?” is Ann’s very good and practical question. We’re all somebody’s children. The first answer to it is: “Model it.” If you want your children to be grateful, do they see mom and dad grousing about this and that?—complaining and whining?—and bah-bah this?—and wah-wah that?—and “I hate this”? There’s really a plague of outrage in Western culture these days, where we so quickly get uppity about this, that, or the other thing. That’s one: “Model it.”
Number two: “Seek, in order to model it, a heart of humility that recognizes, ‘We don’t get to have everything the way we want it. There is an infinitely wise God, who has orchestrated a lot of things to go the way I wouldn’t do it if I were God.’” It’s a good thing for the universe I’m not God, because I would have blown it all by now; but to seek the right kind of heart that really is a grateful heart. This is a heart thing, not just a social practice thing—like, “Where do you set the spoons, and where do you set the forks?”—this is: “How do you tune your heart?”
“The eyes of faith that see what God is doing have to be awakened in the individual.” You can teach an unbelieving child, who grows up to be an unbeliever, to do the polite thing—and send thank-you notes after they get wedding gifts and all of that sort of thing—but the heart transformation that is required is a divine work; it is a God work. To get your children to be thankful, we have to pray that God will do that. Romans 10—Paul said it was his earnest desire that his brothers would be saved/that his people would be saved—so we want to pray for our children that they would become grateful.
Fourth, “Reminders hurt: ‘Are you glad you got that thing from Grandma and Grandpa? Well, what would you like to say to Grandma and Grandpa?’” [Laughter]
Bob: “What kind of note would you like to write to them?”—right?—“A thank-you note; yes.”
Sam: Yes; so there are steps that can be taken. I/in the book, I included a list of 100—is that what it is?—
Sam: —a list of 100 practical things that a person can do. Not all of them would apply to children; but a person could look through that list, and do a little shopping for: “Which things we’d like to try in our home.” There are some suggestions on how to get children moved farther down the path towards living a pattern of gratefulness.
Ann: But I think you are right; that modeling piece is really important. I know that Dave and I made a mistake as—
Dave: Our only mistake, maybe?—that was the one—
Dave: —that day. [Laughter]
Ann: —some of you have done this, where we would go to church—and mind you, we helped start the church—so we found ourselves/we would sit at the table after church, and we would critique the service.
Dave: Yes; they would critique the pastor—that’s what they would do—I was not part of this! I was the one being critiqued.
No; Ann is right. We would critique the music/critique every part—because we had a lot of designing—everything that was going to happen that day—
Ann: —we had a say in it.
Dave: I think we modeled for our kids: “That’s what you do at church. You go, and you rate it: ‘Hey, on a scale of 1 to 10, how did it go today?’”
Bob: “How did you like the movie?” “How did you like the church?”—I mean, yes.
Ann: It’s almost producing consumer—
Dave: We didn’t model being thankful for even an average service.
Ann: —“Wasn’t it great to be together?” “Wasn’t it good just to worship together?” Then, to even ask the question, “How did God speak to you today?”
I feel bad—because what we found is—then teenagers/our teenagers would come home, and what were they doing? Modeling exactly what we had done for years.
Sam: Lord, have mercy on us. [Laughter] Well, I think it’s even broader than that—that creative people—you’re all creative people here.
Sam: You’re creating a ministry, and programs, church. Creative people see how something could be better, and then they have a tendency then to focus on what’s lacking that could be better. They start to concentrate on that flaw—that weakness/that shortcoming—in whatever it is: the football team, or the church, or the radio program, or the guest speaker—[Laughter]
Sam: —or whatever. If the focus there on what’s missing—what’s absent/what are the shortcomings and the failures—then we become critical; we become complainers. It’s a pitfall that goes with being creative.
To counterbalance that, we need to consciously practice thankfulness; make it a practice. You can get up in the morning and say, “I’m going to do this.” We had, here in Minneapolis a few years ago, the captain of the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team, Brittany McCoy went to our church. She made a practice of, everyday with her cell phone, taking a picture of something for which she was thankful that she’d never taken a picture of before.
She was practicing; she was practicing. Putting that habit and that pattern into one’s life helps counterbalance. I mean, it was a very creative thing for her to do—to see: “What pictures are missing in my collection?”—you could take a negative approach to it—but she was adding/piling up things for which she was grateful. I just think, “What a great, creative idea—
Sam: —“to counterbalance taking things for granted.”
Dave: and you say in your book—and you’ve said it already today—it’s seeing it, because we can be blind to it. There are all of these things around us. The very breath we are breathing right now we could be thankful for if we just thought for a second/used our brain and go, “Wow!”
I remember one year, years ago, we were—the Detroit Lions were playing the Packers at Lambeau [Field]—away game/end of the season. In fact, every year, as soon as the season came out, that was the first thing we did: “Are we going to play in Green Bay in December?” [Laughter] You know, it’s going to be cold, and it was; it was like December 23rd. We’re out of the playoffs; it’s a meaningless game, and we have to go there.
The whole time, I’m mad/grumbling—getting on the plane/going there—leaving my family right around Christmas. I just had a bad attitude, like, “I just don’t want to be on this trip. I don’t think anybody does. It doesn’t mean anything.” I’ll never forget the first half of that game; we’re getting beat, and I’m standing there. The whole time, I’m like, “I could be home. I could be—
Dave: Yes—“by the fireplace,”—all of the things I could be doing.
I had that bad attitude going at halftime. I had a shift—I’m looking at the locker room at halftime—and I’m like, “I’m at Lambeau in December with an NFL team on the sideline! How many people would pay to do this?” I’ll never forget—I walked down the tunnel; I’m standing just by the doors. Players are running on. One of the guys comes out that I know really well; he complains, “Look at this; we are going to get beat again at Lambeau.” As I jog with him to our sideline, I go, “Dude! Look at where we are! We are in Lambeau playing football on Sunday night. it get any better than this?! Let’s have a blast!” He looks at me like, “Are you crazy?!” It changed his attitude.
It was just like you said: “It was seeing, practicing.” Now, we still got beat; there was a long flight home, but it was one of those moments, where, again, it’s like: “You can choose to practice this; you can choose to miss it.” But if you don’t stop, every once and a while and see it, you’ll miss it; right?
Sam: Well, even getting beat, I mean, it’s good for our humility.
Sam: Do you to be cocky, or do you want to be a humble person? You take a few defeats along the line because God has ordained that that is the way we get off of our high horse, as it were. You were awake to details around you.
I’ve tried to make a practice, in the strength that God supplies, to thank Him for something I’ve never thanked Him before/thanked Him for before, regularly. The other day, I remember one that was like, “Well, I’ve thanked God for clouds before; but I’ve never thanked God for that particular cloud before. That particular cloud was never here before for me—
Sam: —“to give thanks for.”
Sam: But in a table grace, for example—instead of: “Thank You for these blessings,” “…for all this food. Amen”; but to think: “Thank You for these potatoes—these potatoes and the soil within which they grew, and the sunlight that came from 93 million miles away to make them grow, and absorb nutrients and water from the soil, and the leaves did their photosynthesis miracle,” “Thank You for butter. Butter—what an amazing thing!—[Laughter]
Sam: —“butter—that the sun comes 93 million miles; it makes some grass; the cow eats that grass; it goes through four stomachs; finally gets to that udder. It’s taken to the creamery, and they make butter.”
Dave: Your kids are like, “Dad, can we eat now?” [Laughter]
Dave: That’s beautiful, though/really, to stop, and look, and appreciate. Let me ask you this: “Do you think God is pleased when His children thank Him?”
Sam: Oh my! Yes; we exalt His name when we notice the details of what He has done. I mean, I held an apple the other day. I thought/I mean, we think apples are red; but you look carefully, there are these little stripes, and little dots, and subtle colorations in it. That whole apple—that whole thing there/that tennis ball- or grapefruit-sized thing—all of that material got there through that little, skinny stem. That’s just amazing; “Have I stopped to be and to thank God that He designed that to work that way?”
Even the cold—when you were cold at Lambeau Field—
Sam: I bet the mosquitoes weren’t bad. [Laughter]
Dave: You’re right. There were no mosquitos.
Ann: I have a best friend; when their kids were younger, they were really struggling. She was struggling, because her husband was travelling all the time. She had three young daughters. She was noticing that they were saying sarcastic things about their dad being gone a lot, which she realized was actually coming from her. They were picking up her attitude/her disappointment. She said, “My home was/I was creating an environment in my home that was almost toxic.”
She said/so she had been praying: “We had been talking and praying about this whole situation of trying to see the good.” She started a journal; it was a grateful journal. Whereas before—her husband would be rushing from a meeting to try to get to the soccer game—instead of saying/before, “Why are you always late to these games?” she would get out her journal. She would write in it, and she would date it. She said to her husband, “Thank you for making it to our daughter’s soccer game. It must have been hard getting through traffic, leaving work early; but you still made the effort.
Sam: What a different mindset.
Ann: “Thank you.”
Another one would be: “Thank you for going out in the cold and putting up the Christmas lights on the trees.” She said, “Before, I would have said, ‘Why are you doing it this way? You should do it on this tree.’” But she started seeing the greatness and the thankfulness that she had for what he was doing; so then, every year on his birthday, she gives him this journal. It’s—every time it is dated—she tries to do it, maybe, two or three times a month, where she would just log in a little gratefulness passage of what he had done. He sits down on his birthday, and he cries the entire way through this journal. It has changed him; hasn’t it, Dave?
Dave: Oh, yes; every husband’s saying, “I wish my wife would write a journal”; but it really is a beautiful thing.
about the heart of God, I remember one time, years ago, we took our kids to an amusement park in Ohio; it’s Cedar Point.
Dave: You guys have heard of Cedar Point?
Dave: It’s one of the top five in the We would do it every year, and we took them out of school. By the way, I’m not saying you should do this, parents; but Ohio is still in school—we took them out—because we—[Laughter]
Bob: Lines are shorter.
Dave: would be no lines.
Dave: I remember—you know, as a dad with young kids—it’s chaos. You’re spending way more money than you want to; you’re exhausted; you’ve done the whole thing. We get home; and I’m complaining, all the way home, like, “They don’t even appreciate this. We did all this stuff.” I mean, they are—what?—eight, nine, ten. Maybe, our oldest was 11 years old. They are asleep by the time we get them home, because they fell asleep on the drive home; it’s three hours from where we are.
I put them to bed. I go into the bathroom to get ready for bed. My oldest, CJ, comes in the bathroom, and just opens the door, and goes, “Hey, Dad, thanks!” He walks out. It was like, “No problem! That was awesome. Greatest day ever!” I mean, that one word from an 11-year-old kid—that he actually stopped for a second and said, “Hey, thanks. It was really a great day,”/all he said was “Thanks,”—it was like my heart just jumped. I thought, “If that’s how God feels when his son or his daughter says, “Thanks,”—man oh man!
Dave: It is a moment to say, “I’m grateful; thank You.”
Sam: Well, the of the thanks—in this case, mainly God; but also, horizontally other people—it’s energizing for them. I also argue that it enlarges the heart of the person, who is expressing the thankfulness; and it ramps up or completes, if I could use that word, the pleasure in the thing for which you are giving thanks. You enjoy it more when you express that you are enjoying it—that you are grateful for it/that you didn’t deserve it, and here it came.
That makes/you have an expanded capability of being, as Ann has talked about—you can look on the positive side of things; you can look on the negative side of things—[with gratitude] you just become more of a delight to live with yourself/to live with yourself, much less for other people to live around you.
Dave: Now, have you had an experience or more in your life, where you are going through something hard/a real trial, and you’re still able to be thankful?
Sam: Yes; but not always in the moment. Yes; I’m a sinner, and I have sinful inertia in my life. I’m not going to claim to have mastered this. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Many people who write books or preach sermons preach to themselves, like, “I need to hear this; this is why I need to drill into this particular topic.”
But in the long and I’ve tested this with many people, who would say that, if they look back over their life, and they identify the experiences they ever went through—stuff they don’t ever want to have happen again/stuff that they pray will never happen to the people that they love—nevertheless, it’s true in my life and in theirs—God was up to such profound good that, now, they are thankful; and they wouldn’t have God remove that from their life.
Have I ever had hard experiences?—yes—so hard I don’t talk about them much?—but they were so good for me. God was so refining in that chapter/in those experiences to this day. If that’s the way He’s going to go about refining me, He is infinitely wise; I just trust Him with that. That was the way He needed to awaken me and develop in me aspects of Christlikeness that I don’t think I would have developed any other way.
Ann: I remember talking to my sister; we had both gone through abuse. Years later, we sat and talked about the multitude of women that we had a chance to care for their souls, and lead them to Christ, and encourage them in that Jesus could heal that pain that they had gone through because we had experienced the freedom that God brings through our surrendering of our lives through our pain/through our wounds that we had. I remember both of us saying, “I would go through it again—
Ann: —“in order to save those people from what they feel right now.” Now, in the moment, I couldn’t have said that; but years later, I know that some people think that’s unbelievable; but yes, God refines us in it.
Bob: Pretty as well, that there are some wives and husbands who need to start practicing thankfulness. They need to start intentionally/purposefully saying—
Sam: “Thank You.”
Bob: Yes; and looking for the things to be grateful for—writing the journals like you talked about, Ann—and begin the day by saying, “I’m going to look for the things to be grateful for today,—
Ann: “Open my eyes, Jesus.”
Bob: —“and I’m going to rejoice in those things,”—not just like—“Okay, I’ve got my three; now, I can be done with this. [Laughter] Now, I can go back to grousing.”
I remember a conversation, years ago, with Elisabeth Elliot. She used this illustration; I’ve never forgotten it. She said, “You know how sometimes somebody will put an ink pen in their shirt pocket, and it—you get a little spot”; right?
Bob: The ink leaks, and all of a sudden, at the of the pocket, there is a little purple spot. She said, “The shirt is 99.76 percent white, but where are your eyes drawn?—to that little purple spot. What do you focus on and obsess on?—you go, ‘This ruins everything.’” Now, nobody likes to have an ink spot on their shirt, and it is awkward; but she said, “How many of us are so hyper-focused on the one little thing that we’re missing the beauty around us and being grateful for the beauty around us?”
Before I say your book reminds us of this, your life reminds us of this; because this is true of you. We’re grateful that you’ve let a little of you rub off on us.
Sam: May God be pleased.
Bob: Thanks for being here. We do have copies of Sam’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The book is called Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances . You can your copy of the book when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the title of the book is Practicing Thankfulness. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together with your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about being single, about dating, about getting engaged, about how to know when to ask the question or when to say, “Yes.” What’s the right time? How do you deal with the single years? Marshall Segal is going to be here to walk us through that. I hope you can be with us as well.
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