Learning Gratitude on the Ice

One of the harder things to teach children (and, let’s face it, adults too) is the lesson contained in Paul’s words to the Romans, “In honor giving preference to one another… rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:10, 15). God wants us to desire for others to receive honor and to be happy when they are happy. It’s a part of developing the mind of Jesus, esteeming “others better than” us and looking out for “the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-5). It’s hard to be happy for others though, particularly when things aren’t going that well for you.

My 8-year-old was having a really hard time with this lesson when we were out ice fishing recently. He watched with envy as his six-year-old little brother caught a fish and as I caught a fish, while he caught none. Even after switching ice holes and poles with his little brother, he came up empty; in fact, his little brother caught another one in the spot and with the gear he had traded! At the end of the day, I had caught three, my six-year-old had caught 2 and a half (one leapt off the hook at the surface of the water, so we had to count it somehow), and my 8-year-old came up empty. He wasn’t miserable, but he wasn’t far from it.

After working with marginal success to correct my eldest’s attitude out on the lake, a thought occurred to me after we packed up and got back into the car. “Do you remember how Peter, James, and John started following Jesus?” I asked. I then talked with the boys about the record found in Luke 5:1-11. Peter, James, and John were professional fisherman whose lives depended on catching fish, and yet in the events that Luke records, they had fished all night long and caught nothing. “Do you think they were upset about that?” My son had to agree that they would be. “Well, God had a plan that led them to catch nothing that night. By catching nothing, they were able to see how amazing Jesus was when He led them to their biggest catch ever. This helped them decide to become disciples.”

I had to admit to my son that I didn’t know if God had some reason for him not catching any fish during our outing. “It could be though that God planned for you not to catch any fish. Maybe He wanted you to learn to be happy for other reasons.” I then reminded him of the Christian brother who had invited us out that day, set up our fishing site, and let us use his equipment. I reminded him that unlike Peter and the disciples, we didn’t need the fish; we had fish in the freezer back home and threw back the ones we caught that day. I reminded him how nice it was just to spend the time together. “And maybe,” I added, “he was also trying to teach you to be happy for other people too.”

It’s a hard lesson, but I think I made a little headway during that car ride back home. Perhaps the first step in learning to be happy for others is to learn a perspective of gratitude. Paul also said, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). If we can think more about the God who “daily loads us with benefits, the God of our salvation” (Psalm 68:19), then we’ll learn to trust him, realizing that we’re still blessed even when others succeed where we fail. With that in mind, we can be truly happy for others.    
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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