Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Growing Grateful Kids, by Susie Larson

I'm going to preface my remarks by saying that I'm not sure if I'm going to say what I want to say here very well. Some points may be further clarified through comments and dialogue. I'm thinking as I type.

I've sat on this book for a little while, not writing up my thoughts immediately upon finishing it as I usually do. I completed this read before Thanksgiving but am just now sitting down to write about it.

Originally I picked up Growing Grateful Kids, by Susie Larson because I thought it would be helpful in teaching our kids about how much they have in relation to others in the world and how we should be grateful as the title suggests, etc., etc. And while all of that is true I guess I must confess that I was looking to see if I'd be convicted to "go small" for Christmas instead of celebrate wildly like I'm rather inclined to do. I thought maybe Larson might convince me that I have too much, that my kids have too much and that we should drop Christmas and run to a third world country and -- well, you get the picture.

Because my motivation in reading Growing Grateful Kids was bent in a certain direction, I feel the need to say the following:

1. It is true that Americans do not live in third world conditions, despite the fact that many people in the U.S. think that they do.
2. It is true that certain Americans foster and promote a materialistic society.
3. It is true that my family has their needs met, materially speaking.
4. It is true that I like to celebrate life in many and various ways.
5. It is true that I know how to give good gifts to my children.
6. It is true that I think that it's ok to give good gifts to my children.
7. It is true that I love the holiday season.
8. It is true that I am a Christian.
9. It is true that I think that because I am a Christian I think I should know how to better celebrate holidays than a non-Christian because I have more cause to celebrate (if I believe in the basic tenants of the Christian faith.)
10. It is true that we are to care for our neighbors and not put more emphasis on things than we do on Christ.
11. It is true that we don't know the exact date of Christ's birth.
12. It is true that Christmas has been commercialized and has become more "worldly."
13. It is true that anything good can be hijacked and spoiled by the world and therefore you should examine anything and everything in light of scriptures and make a determination of whether or not something is profitable (in the spiritual sense) for you to engage in.
14. It is also true that Christ WAS born here on earth and the church has put a fixed period of time on their calendar to observe this event, as well as the event of His death on the cross.
15. It is true that the world gave us the Easter Bunny but God still gave His son and I'm going to observe His act of sacrifice no matter what the world says or does at the same time.
16. And it's true that I'm not therefore going to be stickler about the unknown exact date of his birth but observe the fact that He had to be born in order to die.
17. It is very true that I celebrate Christmas - and that in a big way - and I've no apologies to offer for it. I hope I celebrate it more grandly and fully than the world does and that's pretty much all I have to say about that.

The above could-be-deemed-a-bunny-trail list of arguments but since I was wrestling with those thoughts when I picked up this book, I wanted to list them for my own sake. Every year I'm confronted by people who believe that celebrating Christmas is bad. Or that celebrating Jesus birth date on December 25th is bad. Or that I shouldn't buy any presents for my kids or _____________ (fill in the blanket with your own argument against celebrating Christmas wildly or as the date of Jesus' birth.) So I thought I should read Growing Grateful Kids to see if it would change my mind about over saturating my children with a Crazy Christmas without teaching them to be grateful (in some determined-by-some-other-person-to-be-the-right way.)

In case you want to skip the rest of this (lengthy) post and just figure out what my conclusion was: it was to carry on as we always have, changing little-to-nothing as this book really had nothing to do with giving away all that we had in order to teach my children to be grateful.

Actually, this book was nothing at all like I expected. It wasn't about my children and what they needed to learn. It was about me. All. about. me. (Isn't that always the way?! You want to instruct someone else and you end up learning a personal lesson yourself. What's that all about!?)

The entire book was about pursuing an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. If you do that, then your kids will see it and, with a healthy dose of God's mercy and grace, your kids will learn to follow after God in their own right. Note: not because of what you have done, but because of what He has done (and continues to do in your life.)

"Our kids desperately need to know what it means to hear God's voice, but we cannot teach them something we ourselves do not understand. So for our sake and theirs, we must cultivate a lifestyle of listening to God and of doing what He says. Our kids need a living, breathing faith and they'll see it modeled as we pursue an authentic relationship with Jesus." (Introduction, page 16)

WHAT? Huh!?

Larson proceeds to talk about the things that plague as as individuals, mothers and parents: fear, worry, anxiety, etc. She addresses those problem attitudes in our lives and calls us to look to Christ to look after us and meet our needs. The book is a walk of encouragement alongside someone who has faced her own life trials and who is here to assure you that God will never leave you or forsake you no matter what the circumstances might currently look like. In the midst of a painful trial it's easy to lose sight of the fact that God is good, always. However, if we are faithful to continually seek after Him, listen for His voice and obey His instructions then our children will see this faith and will feel safe and secure in Christ even during the darkest moments in our lives.

She also spends time talking about how we are broken, sinful creatures ourselves, prone to mistakes. We cannot parent perfectly but we do have access to a God who delights to give His children wisdom as they face hard situations.

"We also need wisdom because we are still works in progress. Without wisdom, we will not only parent by reactions to our circumstances, we will also parent through the filter of our own hang-ups. Again, we cannot impart something that we ourselves do not possess. Unless we earnestly press the Lord for wisdom for our broken areas, we will parent in reaction to our fears and insecurities rather than in response to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in us." (Chapter 6, Ask for Wisdom, page 97)

(Can I get an Amen? I needed to read that!)

Now on the topic of gifts and "stuff", Larson does address the issue of contentment which, in my mind, is a year-round problem and not just a Christmas or holiday-oriented one. Our society does not encourage contentment. As I said earlier, it is a society that does foster greed. It's money driven and we are inundated with advertisements trying to convince us that all that we WANT we truly do NEED. But all that we need is in Christ Jesus. This is not a point I have argument against! Larson says:

"When our children watch us battle through our appetites and unfulfilled desires to find contentment, they'll learn that though it is not always an easy win, it is possible, and it is a good fight. When they hear us regularly thanking God for the specific blessings in our life, they will remember that they too are blessed. When they see us giving to others more often than grabbing for ourselves, they will see - at least for us - that "stuff" is a gift and not a source." (Chapter 8, Embrace Contentment, page 126)

I think that's a most important thing. Stuff isn't a source of happiness. It is a gift (yes, to be grateful for!) Stuff can certainly be exciting and can produce momentary glee. That's not bad in and of itself. We are allowed to have fun as Christians. We should be having fun as Christians. But if our ability to have fun ebbs and flows with the amount of things that we insist on surrounding ourselves with, then we have a problem. Stuff is fun, but it is very temporary and I think it is important to let the stuff go when and if it starts interfering with relationships with others (i.e., fighting over toys, being upset because you lent something out that was accidentally destroyed, etc.) or with our relationship with God.

Larson quotes John 1:36-39 and then says the following:

"I love this passage. Jesus - the One who would die for the sins of His followers - invited them to, "Come and see." He was never one for pat answers or useless cliches. Jesus wanted His disciples to learn by discovery; to grow within the context of a living, breathing relationship; and to change because they were more acquainted with His love than with their own tendencies towards sin. He invites us on the same journey. Jesus knows that we're not who we will be, but He sees what we can be, and so He invites us to follow Him, knowing that we'll be transformed along the way." (Chapter 10, Look Deeper, page 151)

Relationships are the more important thing. They trump the stuff any old day of the week. Living that fact is very important. Teaching our children that fact is very important. It doesn't mean that stuff and celebration is bad. It just means that we need to keep our priorities straight and take the "stuff" for exactly what it is - gifts to be enjoyed along the way. "Stuff" is just a temporary pleasure that is not a sinful gift in and of itself, but "stuff" is also not what we build our happiness on. Our happiness can and is only to be found and maintained in a living, breathing, real-life relationship with Christ Jesus.

I'll conclude with the idea that Larson expresses of living a bold faith in front of our children, concentrating on our own sins, confessing and rejoicing before young eyes and hearts so that they can more fully see Christ in our own lives.

"Our children have the potential of being tomorrow's leaders. They are tomorrow's business owners, attorneys, pastors, wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, elders, and neighbors. With God's help, may we be bold and insightful enough to see the Lord's image in our children. May we discern the Lord's call on our kids' lives at an early age and then cooperate with Him by making the way clear for them. And may our walk of faith be so real and so vibrant that our children will grow up to be grateful adults because they lived in a home where God was honored above all else." (Chapter 10, Look Deeper, page 157)

Instead of providing conviction that I was celebrating Christmas/the holidays inappropriately with my children, instead I was invited and encouraged to examine sinful attitudes, desires and actions within my own heart and life so that I could walk more whole heartedly in Christ. With an authentic faith mirrored for my children, I hope great things.

Larson also quoted this which really should be my summary for a post like this:

"We cannot grow beyond our ability to receive correction." Francis Frangipane

My conclusion - at this time - for teaching children gratefulness during the holiday season is to continue on celebrating wildly, loving well and pointing our children to the Giver of All Good Things all the way.

My conclusion - personally speaking - as a result of reading this book was that I have a lot of personal issues to work on and it's prideful and sinful of me to set about working on correcting only my children while having an attitude that I'm Just Alright myself. The Christian walk is a tough one. Much is required and the journey doesn't end until God calls me home. I've still much to learn. For the record, I'm very grateful for this book and the thoughts it provoked as I read through it. Yes, I do heartily recommend it!

"We have this one life, this short time on earth to make our mark and to make life count. We have these children in our care for a blink of an eye. Now is the time to be engaged and fully present. Now is the time to seek divine insight into God's plan for their lives. Now is the time to rise up and be the parent that we might train our kids in the way they should go.
We are not alone. Not by a long shot. Yes, we have a seemingly impossible task before us, but we have Christ within us, and the heavens cheering for us. We can make a difference in this world! We can do every single thing God asks us to through Christ who gives us strength." (Chapter 16, Be Like Christ, page 234)


Andrew Wiggins said...

I'm in the middle of this book too. I got it b/c I was seeing some character issues in my girls' heart and thought we should work on gratitude. After the first chapter, I told my husband (tongue-in-cheek), "If I'd known this book was about MY heart, I would never have opened it!" In just a few chapters, it has been convicting and has changed the way I speak to my girls all day long. Already, I see their words changing too. How right it feels to be walking through our days giving more verbal praise to our Creator.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Wow! This sounds like one I NEED to read for my own edification!

Barbara H. said...

This hit me between the eyes: "We cannot grow beyond our ability to receive correction. Francis Frangipane"

I think I pretty much agree with everything I read here. It's a constant battle to remember as a parent to focus on the heart (mine as much as theirs) and on modeling the right attitudes rather than just on outward conformity.

Carrie said...

Wiggins - Definitely convicting and it could likely stand a re-read by me already. It's a Hearts at Home book and I'm wondering if I should explore more of their titles because this one was so spot on!

Amy - Waa haa haa.

Barbara H. - That one definitely got me. Correction is never easy to take but that simple sentence points out such a basic fact: refuse correction and you will not grow. Ouch!

Kristin said...

Yes! I completely agree. I wasn't expecting this book to be about ME! :) I checked it out from the library, but I think I need to purchase it so I can read it again.

Annette W. said...

Sounds like a book I don't want to read...but NEED to read.

Bluerose said...

I think I'd really like this book!
I would have picked it up for the same reasons you did. I could definitely use some working on, though. :)

I always struggle with just how big to go at Christmas. My side of the family has always been more conservative with Christmas buying, but my husband's side goes ALL out. It's tough finding a balance for us!

Janet said...

I wasn't expecting to see a Francis Frangipane quote! He's an author I like (3 Battlegrounds) but few people have ever heard of.

Sounds like it was a challenging read!

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Excellent discussion, Carrie. I totally agree that gratefulness and contentment are a year-round problem. Perhaps we have less of an issue being grateful during Christmas than we do when times are lean and tempers are short. I am reminded regularly that I need to practice gratefulness and contentment when it comes to non-material blessings as well. It's so easy to focus on what we do not have in relationships as well.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Oops, almost forgot to mention my like of your 17 point reasoning regarding Christmas. It must the the Law School bleeding through. I love doing that sort of thing myself.

Stephanie Kay said...

I read about half this book and then got distracted by life. I keep trying to get back to it. I kinda felt the same way as you. I thought it would be full of practical ways I can instruct my children in gratefulness and being unselfish. But I found it really focuses on moms and that as we are grateful it naturally flows to our children. I don't think the title adequately describes the book but it is a good book for moms. I really must re-read it.

Shonya said...

Wow, I've gotten behind on my blog-reading, but this one sounds like a must-read! (And I had to chuckle that a mere three days apart we each posted about reading books "for someone else" that were written to US! lol)

Seriously, though, there were enough points of conviction even just in your review to make the book worth a purchase!

Cassandra said...

Sounds like an awesome book. I'll be adding it to my to-read list. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

Top  blogs