Kids, Hotel Soaps & 62 Pennies: Lessons in Gratitude

We received a surprise visit yesterday from my Grandpa Ken who lives in Nova Scotia.  He called me when he was just 200 miles away, letting me know he would be arriving within the next few hours.  When he finally arrived – what a joy it was to see him, hug him, and even hear his well-worn jokes!  It had been 4½ long years since our last visit.  The kids eagerly crowded around to greet their great-grandpa with hugs and kisses, and for three of them, meet him for the very first time.

Grandpa Ken’s short visit seemed to end before it even got started, but packed into the few hours of togetherness, we all enjoyed many smiles, laughs and warm-hearted moments.  Grandpa Ken brought a few trinket gifts for the kids including hotel soaps collected from across the US, and a jar filled with Canadian and US pennies.  After a methodical, organized process of sorting and dividing that insured each of the ten penny piles were equal, this kids were allowed to collect their loot.  Oh, you would have thought their treasures were bags of gold doubloons, rather than piles of 62 pennies.  For over an hour the kids sorted, organized, and counted their pennies.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but be taken in by the joy and gratitude they exhibited.  The gratitude didn’t come from a place of need or depravity – they all have wallets and purses with money of their own.  The gratitude neither came from an (over) assessment of the worth of the gift.  The gratitude didn’t even come from a sense of how they could use the gift to gain something better for themselves (although one did remark that now she could buy her brother a bigger birthday present).  The gratitude came from a place of deep appreciation for the generosity and thoughtfulness of the giver.  The gift reminded the kids of their beloved great-grandpa Ken, and because of that, anything he might have given was considered precious and immensely valuable.

My kids aren’t unique in their gratitude.  Most children instinctively come, I think, pre-programmed with grateful hearts.  What means more to a child than cuddling on a parent’s lap to listen to the 17,345th reading of their favorite book, or a kiss on a boo-boo, or a nice tight tuck-in at night?  And those same grateful children who have been read their favorite story, had their boo-boos kissed, and been tucked in tight at bedtime, also love to give in meaningful, heart-felt ways.  Who hasn’t been touched deeply by a child whose grimy little fingers clutch a handful of weeds, hidden excitedly behind their back?  Or cherished a colorful card that proclaims, “i LV u Mam”?

Contemplating my children’s grateful spirits over a bar of hotel soap and 62 pennies, I was reminded, and convicted, of how far I’ve gotten away from true gratitude.  We are instructed, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)  And yet, how often am I grateful “with strings attached”?  How often is my gratitude contingent on my personal satisfaction or enjoyment?

What would it look like, I wonder, if I was grateful in all circumstances – not just those that met my wishes or perceived needs?  What if I expressed gratitude not just for what I deem valuable, but for all things?  What if my gratitude extended far beyond that which makes my life nicer, easier, or better?

What if, like my children so beautifully demonstrated, my gratitude came from a place of deep appreciation for the generosity and thoughtfulness of the Giver?  What if I could see all that surrounds me – the good, the bad, the challenging, the hurtful, the exciting, even the unknown – as something that reminds me of my beloved Father, and because of that, anything He might have given, or will give, is precious and immensely valuable.

What if?