“Grace,” our son said proudly with one hand folded into his other, fingers intertwined. We probably shouldn’t have, but we laughed. We had just started saying grace at our dinner table a few weeks ago. Instead of doing the “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts” blessing I had been raised on; my husband and I decided to start our own tradition of grace by simply giving thanks. We didn’t know how long it would take to catch on, but we were ready to give it a shot with a three-year-old and a twenty-two-month-old who each seemed to be picking up on so much lately. So three weeks into our new routine when our preschooler volunteered to say grace, my husband encouraged him.
“Great Luke! Go ahead, you say grace tonight.”
So pure, so blunt. He said it. “Grace.” And like I said, we laughed. It was beautiful and he was proud. Then we clapped.
The next night he wanted to say it again, but this time we invited him to continue.
“Say what you are thankful for.” Sure we helped him out and gave him ideas. “You could be thankful for your family. Your brother. Your food. Your home.”
He got it immediately. “I’m thankful for my mommy. My daddy. My ZZ,” he announced as he looked at each one of us around the table. Then he glanced down and mentioned our dog. “I’m thankful for my Yukon.” He paused in a slump; he had run out of living and breathing blessings. Then with an excited charge he concluded, “and I’m thankful for my ambulance.” His new favorite toy. He smiled.
Impressed, my husband and I looked at one another and then back at him and said, “Amen!” He repeated it and his little brother with his hands semi-clasped, said his best Amen. Then we clapped and told Luke what a great job he did and gave his little bro some props too for his participation.
A week later, at Christmas Eve dinner with grandma and grandpa, he suggested he say grace. “Grace.” Now he’s doing it just to get a hearty laugh from his dad, which is delivered on queue. But he does follow it up being thankful for each of us at the table, even grandpa twice. Then out of the blue, he says he’s thankful for his Aunt Kathy who actually couldn’t join us this year. With all fairness, he hears her name often, undoubtedly earlier in the day.
The brilliant part of all of this isn’t that a three-year-old is hamming it up in front of family, or that it’s cute that he’s thankful for a toy or a missed aunt, but it’s seeing the whole purpose behind our efforts to set an example for our kids actually work. Things can actually click. Maybe even before you know it. But it’s happening. And here we are just weeks after starting our dinnertime blessings and not only were they catching on, but they were really getting into it! I know what you’re thinking…just wait a few years and see who’s excited to say grace. Probably not two boys who would rather go play with friends or their new DS game (assuming DS is the thang in 2015).
I know my efforts can have a great impact on my children’s lives. I know this, but it still astonishes me at times. For instance, a few months ago I started explaining to my boys after I had taken them somewhere really fun, like Chuck E Cheese’s or the pool, that it’d be really nice if they said to whomever took them, “thank you so much for taking me there.” When I started saying it, I always felt like I was talking to myself, as I glance in the rearview mirror to see them just looking out their windows, never saying anything back to me. But I kept it up for several weeks, never really thinking it would work. Then one day we were leaving the park and out of the blue my boy says it. “Thank you so much for taking me to the park with all of my friends.” I was so excited I wanted to cry. It worked! I couldn’t believe it worked!
Ultimately, whether or not they will want to actively participate in saying grace as they get older, they will be learning to be aware of what they are grateful for. As my husband and I continue to try to lead by example and show them that gratitude can come in many forms-be it family, food on the table, toys or even an event or a feeling; they will start to recognize it in their own lives away from the dinner table, throughout their every day. They will be conscious of it. As they experience things they will have an appreciation of what is actually enriching their lives rather than just taking things for granted.
Sometimes they are the lessons that seem so simple. And they can be. These are the lessons that can last a lifetime. But it’s got to start somewhere and be nurtured. It’s up to us to deliver grace. Then we have one more thing to be grateful for. Amen!