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One of my all-time favorite books is L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Anne, the waifish orphan, is mistakenly brought to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, elderly siblings who are expecting to adopt a boy to help them on the farm. It’s funny and heart-warming, and I could go on and on about all of the characters, (Dear, sweet Gilbert!), but I’m too old to write book reports. Instead, let me tell you something I noticed as I’ve been re-visiting this book for the umpteenth time.


I’ll set the scene…Eleven-year old Anne is finally given a family and a real home for the first time since both her parents died when she was just a baby. She has never owned anything pretty in her life. Marilla, practical and strict, is sewing her a new set of dresses, and Anne shows her dislike of their plainness. She says, “I'll imagine that I like them.” Marilla’s feelings are a smidge hurt as Anne asks if at least one of the dresses can be made with puff sleeves, but Marilla thinks this is wasteful and unnecessary. Anne says, “I'd rather look ridiculous when everybody else does than plain and sensible all by myself." That just smacks of ingratitude doesn’t it? How could this 11-year old girl say such a thing to the woman who has opened her home to Anne?


Years ago, when we were waiting to bring our son Ezra to live in our home, I read a post by an adopted mom who had already brought home her African daughters. They were older—maybe 8 and 11—and she recounted a moment they’d had at the dinner table. The mom had told the girls who, by the way, couldn’t speak English and were just recently orphans, that they couldn’t leave the table until they had asked to be excused. She said they refused, so she made them sit at the table until they could be more thankful. The comments I read under her post mentioned how ungrateful their own adopted kids had been, and didn’t they know what had been sacrificed for them?


Now this isn’t meant to be indicative of adoption or adopting parents, or anything like that. What I realized reading that post and was reminded of re-reading Anne of Green Gables, is that gratitude is rarely natural. Just like playing the piano and riding a bike and writing in cursive, in most instances, it has to be taught and practiced to become second nature.


When I originally read those comments, I wanted to ask the ones who had left irritated responses if they’d ever spent more than 5 minutes around kids…any kids. As the adults in their lives, we’re constantly chanting the thank you chorus to them: “What do you say?” Eventually they will say please and thank you without being reminded, but it takes time. We aren’t born grateful.


Which is why Scripture has to urge us again and again to be thankful. Psalm 95 begins with “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” Then it goes on to list a few of the reasons why we should be grateful, like the mountains and the seas.


It would be nice, but a baby doesn’t emerge from the womb remarking, “Thanks for all that hard work, mom! I appreciate all that you went through to bring me into this world!” He learns gratitude from us, from the emphasis we put on it when we don’t let him move on without saying thanks and from how we model gratitude. But even with all of this information, I have to wonder if there are times when the angels are sitting with God, watching me act entitled and petty, and they say, “How ungrateful can Abby be? Doesn’t she know what has been sacrificed for her?”


The hope is, with enough practice, our own character arc will match Anne’s. In a later book, older Anne says, “In May one simply can't help being thankful . . . that they are alive, if for nothing else. I feel exactly as Eve must have felt in the garden of Eden before the trouble began.” When our heart gets aligned with the truth of what God has done and continues to do, we can’t help but be thankful!

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When we can't help but be thankful

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