Parent Devotion: Gratitude Without Strings Attached
“Thank you for everything you do for me. I love you. I’m so blessed that you’re my mom.”
Those were the words texted to me last month by my college-age daughter.
My heart swelled with love and gratitude that she was growing up to be such a wonderful, considerate young woman, reaching out to offer her mama some genuine love.
The feeling lasted for a few moments as I reread this cherished text over and over. But then something caught my attention. She had used the word “blessed.”
“Blessed” is not a normal word in her vocabulary. Although she has a vibrant, ever-growing faith and relationship with Jesus, this kid is simply not one to toss “blessed” in a random text without a motive. Something was up, and I needed to get to the bottom of it.
“Thanks for the affirmation! Is everything OK?” I responded.
“Everything is great! I love my internship with the elephant rescue project. And they’ve invited me to serve in Thailand for three weeks this summer!” she replied.
“How awesome! An all-expenses-paid trip to Thailand, I assume!” I texted back, knowing full-well what was coming next.
“Well, they’re a non-profit, so we’d have to pay the fee and stuff…”
And two minutes later my phone rang, and she called to explain the “fee and stuff.” It was “only” like $3,750 plus the cost of airfare, of course.
I asked how she was planning to earn enough money to cover the trip, since I had no intention of funding more of my daughter’s international whims.
We had already paid for a study-abroad experience the previous spring semester where she taught elementary school for four months in a poor, remote village in Fiji.
It was an incredible, life-changing experience mentally and spiritually. But academically it was an expensive way to spend a semester discovering that she didn’t want to pursue a career in teaching, therefore changing her major after returning for her senior year. (We’re not even calling it “senior year” anymore, since she still has several semesters left to earn a degree in what has to be the longest-ever description of a double major/minor/certification pursuit: Studio Art with an emphasis in ceramics; Humanities with an emphasis in communication; a minor in Ethnic Studies and certificate in Technology Arts and Media.)
“That’s quite a plan…is this a career goal or a ‘stay in college forever’ goal," my husband mused.
We supported her change of major, believing in what she felt “called” to pursue. But I’d also explained we could not afford to continue to fund her college education beyond an eight semester stint, and she would have to foot the bill.
But now her hopeful request to pay for a summer trip to Thailand finally sent me over the edge of sanity.
My entire annual salary is consumed by two kids currently in college, despite some merit scholarships they earned. We’d already used our savings to put our two oldest kids through college, and still have a fifth kid entering college next year.
Did my kids even have a clue? They say they’re grateful, and thank us dutifully when I forward them the receipt each time I pay a tuition bill.
But WHY IN THE WORLD DO THEY KEEP EXPECTING MORE?
Why can’t I just get a text from my daughter that says she’s thankful and blessed without it being a pre-cursor to a request? Why had I failed so miserably as a parent and ended up raising such entitled kids?
Agitated, I reflected on why this ungratefulness bothered me so much. Was it because I had invested and sacrificed so much because I love them, or was it because I needed the validation that I was a great mom and it felt nice when my kids thanked me?
My answer was a bit of both, and the following fresh perspective: I do things for my children because I love them and believe in them, and I’ve chosen to invest in their college education because my parents did the same for me, just as their parents did for them.
Perhaps what I view as a lack of genuine gratitude is actually my kids simply trusting that I’ll take care of them.
And isn’t this what Jesus does for us?
God sent his one and only son to die a hideous death as a common criminal even though he was without sin in order to give us eternal life—just because he loves us.
But there are many days I forget to live a life that oozes gratitude for this great sacrifice. And there are many other days when I feel lonely and inadequate and I forget how much Jesus loves and wants me.
Just like my children expect that I’ll take care of their dreams and aspirations, I expect God to take care of me, answer my prayers, and come through no matter what. And I also still whine when his plans for my life don’t seem to match mine.
Yet despite my frequent lack of gratitude, he sticks with me and promises to never leave or turn his back on me.
His love doesn’t hinge on my thanks.
I’m challenging myself to take the same attitude with my children, and recognize that they really are grateful—they just don’t always show it the way I’d like to see it. Gratitude often comes in hindsight, when kids look back on the college years and opportunities they were given with the grateful perspective that comes from maturity.
And even though I’d love my children to act more thankful and text, “Thank you, mom,” without any strings attached, I can’t gauge my value based on the gratitude I receive in the current moment. If I do, I’ll miss the joy that comes from just being their mom and loving them unconditionally.
By the way, my daughter did end up calling me, out of the blue, a few weeks after the sketchy “blessed” text. Her voice cracked on the other end of the phone as she apologized for her request to fund her Thailand trip, and she thanked me for all of the ways I had sacrificed for her. No strings attached. She just wanted me to know that she really understood how blessed she was, and was genuinely grateful.
You’re welcome, my dear. I love you, too.
Digging Deeper— Devotions and Journaling
As our kids grow up, so do their expenses. Unfortunately, it seems like their gratitude doesn’t keep up with the pace of growth. It’s easy to start feeling bitter when the bills are mounting, the stress is increasing, and the requests and expectations keep coming.
Read and reflect on the following verse from the Bible:
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Journal your thoughts about this: Have your kids ever appeared ungrateful for what you do for them? If so, when? And how did that feel?
Read and reflect on this Bible passage, too:
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Journal your thoughts about this: Yes, Jesus saved you from your sin. But rather than think only about what he saved you from, focus on this: What did he save you to?
Finally, read and reflect on this passage from the Bible:
“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7
Reflect on moments in your life when you felt an overflowing gratitude for your relationship with Jesus. What prompted those moments? What might you do to experience more of those moments?
Up for a Challenge?
Write Jesus a thank you note. Be specific, thanking him for what he’s done for you and your relationship with him.
Written by Kami Gilmour, mom of 5 teen and young adult kids. She's the author of a best-selling book, Release My Grip, Hope for a Parent's Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly.