The Grateful Game
Updated: Sep 18, 2018
Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.
My Gratitude Hero
My mom is the most grateful person I (Sarah) have ever met. When she was only 28 years old and I was just a baby, our family became victims of a tragic drunk driving car wreck. We were on our way to a birthday party when a man who had been drinking all day hit us head on. My mom’s husband and 3 ½ year old daughter, Kristin, my big sister, were both killed. As a result of the crash, my mom was severely injured and has suffered with chronic pain for the last 30 years. To say the least, she was broken hearted and crushed, both emotionally and physically. She was angry at God, afraid, and alone.
On a gloomy Thanksgiving weekend, just a few months after the wreck, my mom was at church and the Pastor cheerily asked everyone to turn to their neighbors and share what they were thankful for. My mom looked at the woman next to her and with tears streaming down her eyes, she muttered,
“Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing.”
She went home that day and felt God tugging on her heart. He was telling her that she had two choices--to live with bitterness, anger, and sadness, or to choose to live a life of gratitude.
Feeling convicted, she pulled out a piece of paper and proceeded to make a list of every single thing in her life that she was thankful for—the sun, the trees, enough food to eat, her daughter (me), her life, etc. Slowly but surely, through tear-filled eyes, she scribbled out her thoughts and filled up the whole piece of paper. She took a deep breath in as she read it over and decided from that day forward to praise her God even in the darkest moments. Throughout my whole upbringing and even still today, over 30 years later, I can truly say that I have never met a happier or more grateful person.
When I was a little girl, she would always recite to me her favorite Bible verse--Romans 8:28,
“And all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
She explained to me that though we live in a broken and messed up world, God can use even the messiest, yuckiest, darkest parts of life to be turned into good and for his glory. Pastor Rick Warren always says, “God never wastes a hurt.” I have stolen this phrase and use it often to remind myself that when we let him, God can use even the hardest things we go through to grow us, to give us more empathy, and to further his kingdom.
Gratitude can change even the hardest heart. Choosing gratitude increases our joy because this is how God designed us. It is God’s will for us to give thanks and rejoice in Him. When we obey him, we are straight up happier, healthier people!
How to Play
Often when we are driving in the car, we play a little game we made up called “The Grateful Game.” You don’t need a thing to play. Just take turns shouting out something you want to thank God for and try to keep thinking of new items to thank God for! Kids are competitive and love to think of new and creative praises.
Here is an example of how we play. I start by shouting out, “Thank you Jesus for this sunny day.” Then, my son will call out, “Thank you Jesus for our car.” My daughter will pipe in, “Thank you Jesus for my juice box!” The baby will say, “Fank you God” and we all laugh. We try to go in order and avoid pauses just to make it a bit more fast-paced and fun!
Recently, my oldest made a rule that we need explain why we are grateful for that particular thing when playing the game. For example, he often says, “Thank you God that the dinosaurs are extinct, because if they weren’t, life would be pretty scary.” I have to admit, until we started playing this game, I had never even thought to thank God for this. Come to think of it, I am super grateful that we don’t have to run around dodging dinosaurs!
This game actually works. Sometimes I suggest it because I am complaining and grumbling in my heart and just feeling frustrated with my kids and know that I need a heart check. When we are all having a rough day, my son often proposes that we play the grateful game to turn around our grumpy day.
Is Being Grateful for the Hard Things Fake?
Sometimes I feel stuck in feelings of negativity. I complain about how hard it is to be a mom or how messy my house is or how hard it is that my kids are sick. I have one with asthma and one with a heart condition and sometimes I start to feel sorry for myself and for them. While it’s ok to grieve and feel the pain, these thoughts can be turned over to Jesus. He wants to take them. He wants to help us process our pain and give us a new perspective.
My sweet friend, Courtney, found out during her last pregnancy that her son had a chance of being born with Down Syndrome. Her response to the news was the most beautiful reaction I had ever seen. She told me she hoped and prayed he would be born totally healthy, but if he wasn’t, she felt so honored that God would choose her to be his mom and to give him the special care and love he needed. I was blown away. She thanked him for the news and for the potential opportunity to be a mommy to a little guy with Down Syndrome. This was only possible after she spent time with God, processing the news and letting him tug on her heart. He changes our perspectives and puts praise on our lips.
What about when we don’t feel that way? What about when any which way we look at our situation, we can’t possibly see anything good coming out of it?
Praising him for the trials and hardships in our lives can feel kind of awkward and forced at first, but eventually our hearts start to line up with our prayers. You see, I used to think that gratitude was an emotion. While there are times we might feel super blessed and thankful, our feelings are fleeting and don’t care about us. True gratitude, true hope in Jesus, is a discipline. The world can do its worst to us, but we will still have this hope in Jesus. We can still praise him!
One of my mentors often says that the most violent thing we can do against Satan is to praise God even through our pain. Think about Job in the Bible. If you have heard his story, you know he tragically lost his children, a parent’s worst nightmare, and upon hearing the news, he fell to his knees in worship. With a broken heart, he cried out, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
That is true, other-worldly praise and gratitude that only comes from the Spirit! When we practice praising him for all the little things, like juice boxes, it is easier to continue to worship him when the storms come.