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Toil with Thanksgiving

As a four-year-old in preschool, our third daughter, Bentley, already believed she could “pass” over the parts of life she hoped to avoid. One day, the PE teacher led the students outside to play soccer when he noticed Bentley sitting against the wall of the school, contentedly watching. He approached her and said, “Bentley, it is time for soccer.” She replied, “Oh, no thank you.” The teacher later told me he couldn’t help but giggle at the matter-of-fact, yet polite, way she refused to participate with her class, as if it were a choice, like turning in a “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly. This wasn’t the first time Bentley innocently backed out of an activity. Our family still teases about the phrase she used consistently during her toddler years: “My not want to.” In fact, in joking, we still say that to each other about things we do not really want to do.

Certain moments or seasons of life cause us to fall to our knees, begging God, “No, thank you. Not this time. Not right now.” Even as adults, and especially as parents, we sometimes want to scream at the top of our lungs, “MY NOT WANT TO!” We toil, work, suffer, and endure in things like parenting, health, friendships, family relationships, marriage, and careers. These things will never stop being weaved into our daily lives.

The infant wants to eat five times throughout the night…My not want to.

A son/daughter wants to learn about the birds and the bees…Oh, no thank you. Not yet. Not ever.

A child receives a diagnosis that threatens to leave her blind…Oh, no thank you. We will pass on that one. Give us something easier.

A teenager struggles with a season of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts…My not want toSomeone else fix this; it is too hard.

A child requires a season of intensive time spent working to keep up with school, needing a parent’s constant attention and encouragement…My not want toI’m busy.

Our family has faced many of these troubles, and we know more will come. We’ve uttered the words, “Quit complaining!” (probably daily) and heard them countless times ourselves. We seem to object the most when children complain, but then we feel as though the things we complain about in adulthood are so real and difficult, and that our own complaining is appropriate and fair. Maybe we do not even realize we are complaining, throwing temper tantrums like two-year-olds. After all, every one of us has something to complain about, and fairly so, I imagine. Nobody lives the perfect life, without struggle or disappointment.

The pastor at our church made a statement a few weeks ago that stuck with me. He said, “May our parenting be an offering of praise, focused on what is eternal rather than what is stuck here, under the sun.” He followed that statement with this verse: “What do workers gain from their toil?” (Ecclesiastes 3:9). And then, “…that each of them might…find satisfaction in their toil.” (3:13). I paused…satisfaction in our toil?

So, there lies the question. How do we quit complaining about our toils and instead find reasons to be thankful? The truth is, there are no free passes in life, and certainly not in parenting. A parent’s choice to find a “pass” might come at a cost much greater than having parked in jail for a few rounds during a game of Monopoly.

May our “My not want to” turn into “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Let us choose to shift our perspectives to finding satisfaction in our toils, trusting that an eternal viewpoint will provide just the strength needed to continue, helping us to realize our efforts reach much farther than what we can experience here, “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Then, perhaps, we can teach ourselves the habit of searching for thankfulness: satisfaction. Some examples of this might be:

Instead of, “I really dislike that we have to take our daughter to UVA for clinical drug trials,” maybe, “I’m so thankful there are doctors who dedicate their careers to fight vision loss for people like Logan, and that we have the opportunity for her to be treated by them.”

Instead of, “I wish my arm worked like it used to, and I wasn’t known as ‘The Columbine Girl’ wherever I go,” maybe, “I’m so grateful for this second chance at living life, and demonstrating to our kids that, with His grace, we can survive to thrive.”

Instead of, “The food is taking forever to get to our table!” maybe, “I’m thankful we are able to spend this evening dining out together.”

Instead of, “The piles of laundry on my floor!” maybe, “I’m thankful for all four of our healthy children who wear these clothes while living full and healthy lives.”

As we enter the Thanksgiving season, we might do well, in our own hearts, minds, and experiences to stop saying, “My not want to,” and to step into each moment as an opportunity to toil with gratitude…knowing there is satisfaction in doing what is right, even when it proves difficult. Colossians 3:17 does not mention only the easy things when stating, “And, whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks…” After all, we aren’t talking about a PE class or a board game. We are talking about our children, and how our choices to be all in as parents will matter for eternity.

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