Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the weather. I love the food. I love spending four mellow days with my family.

Most of all, I love what Thanksgiving stands for.

In a culture that elevates entitlement and what’s-best-for-me, Thanksgiving invites us to be grateful, and to share that gratitude with both friends and strangers.

As followers of Jesus, gratitude takes on a special meaning. As Dave and I love sharing with our own three kids, we live gratefully because of God’s grace — because of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Grace is what separates Christianity from every other religion. And grace is the ultimate fuel for our gratitude.

If you asked me to share one insight at your church or your Thanksgiving family table with the young people you care about most, it would likely be this: Because of God’s grace, we live our lives as thank you notes back to God.

Because of God’s grace, we live our lives as thank you notes back to God.

But maybe you’re a leader or parent wondering how to help teenagers and young adults marinate in this truth this month—especially because for some of us, this year has been punctuated with more heartbreak than joy.


Parents: How can we help our families reclaim a sense of gratitude that flows from God’s grace?

  1. Talk with your kids about what has happened in the last year that makes it hard to be grateful. Give your young people space to talk about events in our nation and in your family that may be disappointing or distressing. If it feels appropriate, talk about any glimpses of divine light you’ve seen in the midst of those dark moments.
  2. Every night at dinner or bedtime, ask your kids to share one thing they are grateful for that day. Our family has a bulletin board we pull out for the month of November. Almost every night, each of us writes one thing we’re grateful for on a construction paper leaf (that I cut out ahead of time; I’m not crafty at all so truth be told, the leaves look pretty terrible, but we love the conversations they provoke).
  3. Surprise our kids by not giving them a consequence they “deserve” for a mistake or poor behavioral choice.While Dave and I believe in being consistent with our kids in our discipline, every once in a while, we don’t give them a consequence. Instead, we make it clear that just like our heavenly father shows us grace and mercy, we are trying to do the same.
  4. Involve your kids in figuring out one special way for your family to serve together. Don’t choose for your kids. Let your kids choose for your family. Before you serve, explain that we don’t serve because we hope God will love us more or like us more. And we don’t serve because it will look good on our college application. We serve out of gratitude for God’s grace.

Leaders: How can we help young people reclaim a sense of gratitude that flows from God’s grace?

  1. Talk honestly with your teenagers and young adults about what has happened in the last year that makes it hard to be grateful. This is also the first step in the parent list above, but it’s so important that we wanted to name it here. We hope church is one of the first places that young people choose to process their doubts and disappointments from the last year.
  2. Every time you teach this month, explicitly teach that the choices and commitments you’ve inviting students to consider flow from God’s grace. Thanks to our Growing Young research, I’ve made a commitment that whenever I talk about how to live wholeheartedly for Jesus, I explain that it’s grace that fuels our obedience, not our own effort.
  3. Have an open discussion about #blessed and #grateful. In the midst of digital media that gives young people a chance to post about their eagerness to serve and change the world around them, talk honestly about how those online efforts help make a difference. Also give space for young people to share any concerns they may harbor about those hashtags. How much change actually occurs because of social media posts? How might those posts be tainted, or even fueled, by pride?
  4. Let students vent the pressures they feel to serve because of college or job applications. Everywhere teenagers and young adults turn, they are told they should serve because it will help them get into the school or job of their dreams. While there is some validity to that advice, it puts enormous pressure on our young people, Pressure that distorts their desire to serve. And may even taint service for them permanently. Let students share how they feel these pressures, and identify healthy responses together.


What else do you do to help reclaim a sense of gratitude that flows from God’s grace?


Looking for more parenting and faith resources? Sign-up for monthly newsletters from Kara Powell for free research-driven tools to create lasting faith in your kids and teenagers. November’s resource: Setting the Best Technology Goals and Boundaries for your Family

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Originally posted on the Fuller Youth Institute blog