Learning at 5 and 55

Last fall I needed two maroon buttons for a jumper I was sewing for my 5-year-old granddaughter, Anna. I went with her and her mother to the one fabric store in St. John’s, Newfoundland to look for these buttons, only to find it had already closed for the day. Later, as I was waiting in the car with Anna while her mother ran another errand, Anna asked me, “Grandma, was it a good thing that the fabric store was closed?”

“No, Anna. It wasn’t a good thing. Now we have to come back tomorrow to get the buttons for your jumper.” (Bad answer.)

Evidently she stopped to consider that, because a minute or two later, Anna commented, “Grandma, I kind of think that it was a good thing that the store was closed…because God made the store be closed…and everything God does is good and right.” (Good answer.)

Anna was right. It was a good thing. Her answer reflected an understanding of two eternal truths:

  • God is sovereign over all things, even closing times for stores (Romans 11:36).
  • Everything that comes from God is good and right, including inconvenient circumstances (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 18:30).

What was bad was grandma’s heart. A comfort-loving sinner by nature, I looked at the inconvenience of the situation rather than at the orchestration of God, and in so doing, I not only disobeyed the direct command, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), but I also reflected to Anna the opposite of what I would have liked to have taught her—trust that everything God does is good and right, and rejoice in His providence.

The Bible points to the power of example to quicken truth to the heart (John 13:5, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10, 1 Timothy 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:21). One of the greatest teaching tools we have is the consistent correlation between our truth-filled words and our practice of the truth. Children are great imitators, so if we want them to learn gratitude, we just need to reflect grateful hearts. It’s simple—to teach gratitude, be grateful.

It may be simple…to understand. But we all know that it is hard to live. We often fall short of worthy imitation. We can confess the right things—“God is sovereign; God is good; all things work together for good…”, but very often there is a discrepancy between our confessional theology and our functional theology. We know the truth, but we don’t live in accordance with the truth.

So how can we teach our children…and our grandchildren to “rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances” when we ourselves struggle? How can we possibly be a blessing to our children, when we so often fail to practice what we preach?

I take great comfort in the truth that God is not yet finished with me and that He is working to teach me to be more like His Son (Romans 8:28-30, Philippians 2:12-13, 1 Thessalonians 4:3). Though we are not perfect examples to our children, we can be authentic examples. We can model what it means to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as we strive to grow in gratitude. As authentic examples, we can:

  • Recognize our root problem is that we are sinners. We are idolaters loving the wrong things. We are prone to treasure the lesser (convenience). rather than the greater (God and His glory and providential purposes). The solution to sin is still repentance and grace. Authentic examples confess their sins and ask for grace to fight indwelling sin.
  • Fight the fight of faith, “speaking to our souls,” rather than listening to ourselves. The truth is that God is good; everything He does is good and right, He is our greatest treasure, this “slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), and…”every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5)! Everything else is rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). We must frame all of life in light of Gospel reality.

After being robbed in London, Matthew Henry, the 18th-century preacher and commentary writer, wrote in his diary:

Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed. (as quoted by Nancy Leigh DeMoss in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy2009, pages 62-63)

We have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken…”Therefore let us be grateful…let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

  • Step out in obedience and trust God to give you the proper affections (James 4:5-7). Paul said he learned contentment (Philippians 4:11). Can we learn to be grateful through obedience? Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter explained the correlation between duty and affection in this way: 

Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can…Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better.Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart.(The Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow, by Faith

  • Pray for a transformed heart. The truth is that Jesus is the only rescue for a sin sick heart. “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”

Everything God does is good and right. A five-year-old taught me that parked at a store in Newfoundland. You are right, Anna. It is a good thing the store was closed.

May God grant us the grace to teach and learn together—at any age.

Written by Sally Michael

Sally Michael

Sally Michael is passionate about developing God-centered resources for the spiritual development of children in the home and at church. Sally also enjoys spending time with her three grandchildren.

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