254) Learning to Be Grateful

By James Mulholland, Praying Like Jesus: The Lord’s Prayer in a Culture of Prosperity, Harper Collins, © 2011, pages 89-93.

     When our 2 children were young we took them to an amusement park.  Our finances were tight. We had saved for months for the trip.  It was supposed to be a great day– a time of fun and relaxation for our family.

     We were barely out of the driveway when my daughter and son began to fight in the backseat of the car.  It was a big backseat.  Three adults could sit in that backseat comfortably.  This made it even more mystifying when my daughter kept yelling, “He’s touching me,” and my son kept replying, “Well, she’s touching me.”

     This went on mile after mile.  Finally, in a relatively calm voice, I announced, “If I hear about anyone touching anyone else, I’m going to turn this car around and go home.”  It was an idle threat.  I knew it.  They knew it.  But they did quit fighting for a few miles.  Then my daughter yelled, “He’s looking at me,” and my son replied, “Well, she’s looking at me.”  Before we even arrived at the park, I knew we were doomed.

     The day went from bad to worse.  Even as we entered the park gate, they began to complain.  Why couldn’t we buy souvenirs?  Why did we have to eat pizza for lunch instead of hamburgers?  Why did we ride the attraction my daughter wanted to ride before we rode the one my son wanted?  Why did we have to stand in line?  I finally lost it in the line for the Tilt-A-Whirl.  My son was hanging on the bars dividing our line from the next when he slipped and fell.  My daughter laughed.  More embarrassed than hurt, my son screamed, “I hate you!”  My daughter stuck out her tongue and said, “I hate you too.”  I snapped.  I yanked them out of the line, sat them down on the nearest bench, and began my tirade.

     “You are the most ungrateful children in the world.  Your mother and I have been saving money for months for this trip, and you two have ruined it.  You have fought ever since we got in the car.  You have complained about everything we’ve done.  You have treated each other horribly.  We are going home, and we are never coming back here again.  In fact, we’re never taking you anywhere again.  You are going to spend the rest of your lives in your rooms.”  Nothing hurts a parent more than ingratitude.

     My gifts to my children are freely given.  My sole motivation is my love for them.  Yet I always hope my gifts will produce gratitude.  Thomas Merton said, “Unselfish love that is poured out upon a selfish object does not bring perfect happiness:  not because love requires a return or a reward for loving, but because it rests in the happiness of the beloved.  And if the one loved receives love selfishly, the lover is not satisfied.”  What is true of human love is equally true with divine love.

     Jesus told a story of gratitude and grace.  He spoke of a man who owed a king millions of dollars.  His debt came due, and he was brought before the throne.  He couldn’t pay the debt and begged for mercy.  He asked for more time.  Instead, the king forgave the entire debt.  It was an unexpected act of grace.  But the story doesn’t end there.  The forgiven man left the king’s presence and came across another man who owed him a few dollars.  He demanded payment.  That man also pled for mercy, but the first man refused.  He had his debtor thrown into prison.

     Soon the king heard of this outrage and called the first man to account.  He said, “You wicked servant!  I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?  Throw this man in jail and don’t let him out until he pays every single penny he owes!”  Jesus said, “This is how my Father in heaven will treat you unless you forgive your brother from your heart”(Matthew 18:32-35).

     Nothing hurts God more than ingratitude.  It is always evidence of our selfishness.  We have pleaded for our Father’s mercy without accepting the responsibility to forgive our brothers and sisters…  God is never satisfied until we love as he loves.  The proper response to love is gratitude.  It is gratitude that creates grace.  When we live without gratitude, we find it impossible to act with grace.   Why should we be grateful?  Life is reason enough.  I never attend an African American worship service without hearing someone pray, “God, thank you for getting me up this morning.  Thank you for letting me take another breath.”  The first time I heard such a prayer I thought it strange.  I took getting up and breathing for granted.  But the more I thought about my attitude, the more I realized it was my lack of gratitude that was odd.

     Perhaps it is those who have had the least who are most aware of the goodness of God.  A few years ago, Victoria entered our lives.  She was our daughter’s best friend and became a daughter to us.  Victoria had a horrible childhood.  She was abused by her father, abandoned by her mother, and passed from relative to relative.  Somehow she still got good grades, had the lead in the school play, and graduated with honors.  It was a great joy to include her in our family.

     Whenever we did anything for her, no matter how minor, she would thank us.  I told my own children they could learn from Victoria.  They seldom thanked me for my goodness to them.  Of course, I often forget to thank God for his goodness to me.  Knowing Victoria has reminded me of my blessings– good parents, a supportive family, and a safe home.  These are not small gifts…  Victoria also taught me that God’s goodness and grace have a purpose.  They should enable me to be merciful to the Victorias of the world…  The more I am aware of God’s goodness to me, the more I am able to be gracious to those around me.


Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

I Chronicles 16:34  —  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Lord, it is by your will and command that we come to you in prayer.  We begin by asking that you forgive and remove the many sins that weigh heavily upon us.  Let them not hinder our prayers.  We cannot be without your help, and you have said that you are willing and able to grant such help to them that ask for it.  Lord, we are now asking.  Look upon our need and misery, and help us for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  –Martin Luther