Without being cliché or sounding cheesy, I truly have so much to be grateful for. I know. This is what we’re supposed to say even if we don’t mean it and even if our life really sucks. I can’t say that I’ve always been grateful for everything in my life: a divorced home to grow up in, divorce and infidelity running rampant throughout my family, sleeping in a different bed every night as I split time between my mom and dad’s house (a change made later in my childhood), two completely different environments in each home, an incessant and overwhelming need to keep everyone happy, an inability to make decisions because I was so worried about who was going to be mad, etc.
I’m very aware that people have had a much worse and damaging time growing up. I’m not whining, making comparisons or trying to one-up anyone. This is just my story, and really the foundation that put me on a path to gratitude.
It often takes some space and time to understand the impact of gratitude and the need to be grateful. But, as I have reflected back on my life and with the filter of gratitude, there is a decision that my dad made almost 30 years ago that significantly changed my life.
In the midst of the custody battle - and it was a battle - my dad was allowed to choose one day/evening during the week that he could have me. The original agreement was he would have me one day during the week plus every other weekend. The day he chose was Wednesday. Why was this significant? Because Wednesday was church night in our little Baptist church. By the time he got home from work, it was time for church, and by the time church was over, it was time to get ready for bed. In essence, my dad “gave up” his night with me so that I could be in church on Wednesday nights.
This may not seem like much, but it was huge for my dad and me. For my dad, I was his only child and this one night a week plus the alternating weekends were the only times he was able to see me.
I'm a dad of two little guys and don't have the extra pressure that comes with shared custody, and I often feel like I just don’t get enough time with my them. I honestly can’t imagine how tough it was for my dad to further decrease the face-to-face time with me. My dad, however, had recently turned back to Jesus, and for the first time in a few decades he started to walk with Him again. (Another benefit of the divorce process.) My dad believed very strongly that at my young age, it was vital that I was in church with him and my step mom, who also came to Christ in the midst of this process.
Why was this significant for me? At the time, I didn’t really know what was going on. All I really knew was that I had a new step-dad and step-mom, and that I was splitting time between two different homes. Church on Wednesday nights was just a blip on my radar given everything else that was happening. Four years later, after being in church often and ultimately understanding my absolute need for God’s forgiveness and transformation, I accepted Christ. I was 8.
I know I was young, but God got ahold of my little heart and life and changed me forever. Although I’m far from perfect, I’ve never been the same. It wasn’t my dad that “saved” me or talked me into anything. It was my dad that made a difficult, but intentional decision to put me on the best track possible after the life-altering divorce.
My dad has done so many things for me over the years and broke many unhealthy patterns he received from his dad. Things like never hearing his dad say he loved him. I can’t count how many times a day I heard him tell me that he loved me and was proud of me. My dad also received very little, if any affection from his dad. I was often embarrassed, in a good way, by how affectionate he was with me. We never left each other without an “I love you” and a kiss on the cheek. The list could go on and on, but I want you to understand how significant these decisions were that my dad made and how grateful I am that he made them. I don’t want to know where I would be without his love, willingness to sacrifice himself for me and his vision for what he believed God had for me and his desire to do everything within his power to ensure I reached that potential.
Not only have these things impacted my life in the past, but this gratitude has carried into my life as a husband and dad. You better believe I’m raising my boys to be grateful. And you better know that they hear me say I love them and am proud of them many times today. And you can rest assured that they get lots and lots of affection. Why? I’ve experienced how important these things are, and I want them to know the love that I knew as a boy. Oh, and more significantly, by the grace of God and only by His doing, over the last year and a half, both of them have accepted Christ and allowed him to change their little hearts and lives. Amazing!
No matter your past circumstances and your story today, we can find things to be grateful for. It took me years of reflection to realize many of these things. I encourage you to not wait so long, but to start this process now. And, if you really haven’t received the kinds of things I have, then be the one to break the patterns. No matter what is behind you, you can choose today to be the one that causes someone to be grateful that they know you; that you are their husband; that you are their mom; that you were their friend.
[jbox title="About the author:" border="5" radius="15"] Jackson Dunn is the Director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family where directs the programs, strategies and initiatives of the Marriage Division seeking to provide resources for couples preparing for marriage, to enrich the lives of married couples and to help couples in crisis. He was formerly the Director of University Ministries at the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University. In this position, he taught relationships courses, oversaw a national student assessment, directed a national couples retreat program, and helped developed a community premarital and marriage program.
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Photo credit: Lars Ploughmann