It is November, the month of thankfulness. I recently led discussions in several classrooms of first- and second-graders, children in the 6-8 year old age bracket.
“What does it mean to be grateful?”
A few hands were raised, ”Umm…it means to be nice??” “Is it something about Christmas?” “I know..., if you push someone down then you should say ‘Sorry’.”
I offered examples of gratitude, and understanding dawned on the little faces. In one class I said, “I am so grateful that we are all here together in this classroom and not in a hospital all wrapped up in bandages.”
A little boy chuckled and said, “That is only for grown-ups.”
I suddenly recalled being that young, feeling safe and insulated. I smiled at the little boy; I listed simpler things, like my gratitude for the sun and the color of fall leaves. I held up my hands, “I am grateful that I have this many fingers,” I wiggled them all, “and am so grateful they can do wonderful things.”
My next question caused conflicted answers, “Is it possible to be grateful even when something sad happens?”
Some kids strongly said, “No!” Others were uncertain. I offered the idea that even when there are sad things around us, there are still things to appreciate, like food or a pet or a nice bed to sleep in. I held up my fingers again and wiggled them, “Even if I am sad, I can still be grateful for the small things, like my wonderful fingers.” My small audience seemed convinced.
Then, a boy sitting in the very back raised his hand. “Yes, but what if that is the thing that is sad—like, what if something happens and your fingers don’t work anymore?”
Twenty pair of eyes riveted on my face. Once upon a time, I would have been stammering for an answer. Yet, I felt gratitude for past lessons of personal adversity; ironically, I had something to offer. I told them as simply and briefly as I could about the time years ago when I was a singer. I needed to have surgery, but during the surgery on my neck, accidentally, there was damage to my vocal chord—the thing that makes it so you can talk and sing. The doctor said I would never sing again, or even be able to talk very loud.
I explained that I felt very, very sad. It took about 2 years before I could speak loudly, and it took a while longer before I could sing again. But, during that long time I realized that I could choose to just be sad every day or I could find things that were still good and happy. I tried to remember the good things, like my wonderful children, food to eat and the house I had to live in, even though I still felt sad sometimes.
“So, in my opinion, yes, it is possible to feel gratitude even when sad things happen.”
There were smiles all around and we moved forward into an art project. However, for some time afterward I reflected on the earnest look on that little boy’s face and the maturity of his question. If the setting had been different, I would have also shared that during the worst times of sadness I could access the comfort of God and use His inspiration to make choices that were beneficial to my ultimate wellness.
Here’s what I know now, if we can slog through the sadness and grasp on to even the smallest strand of gratefulness, adversity will eventually be turned to a deep, strengthening experience.
A quote from my wise mother: “God may not seem to be there when you want him, but He wants you to gain confidence doing things you didn't think you could possibly do. Don't give up when the going gets tough. If God thinks you can do it, you can.” (Nellie B. Morgan)
Don’t give up. Be grateful. Happy November!