Cultivating Gratitude

As I look ahead to Thanksgiving, I gaze at magazine racks covered with pictures of peaceful presentations: turkeys roasted to perfection, potatoes baked and boiled and whipped and flavored, pies offered in endless variety, and all of it set upon beautiful tables adorned with costly linens and fine china. The feast is beautiful, but it is not the point.

Pause and reflect

Seeking to make things picture perfect can consume a lot of time and energy, leaving no margin for reflecting on the blessings. This brief season of thanks asks us to slow down, reflect, and take a deep breath. This brief season offers us the opportunity to bathe ourselves and our loved ones in heart-felt gratitude. While this may be counter-cultural during this era of entitlement, it is a renewing practice that can help us to see the blessings we often take for granted. Gifts aren't appreciated when we rush past them. We can't delight in them until we pause and reflect on how much we are given.

Express your thanks to God

Take a moment to thank God for even the simplest gift. It will help us not only to feel less frustrated and needy but also to draw closer to the one who showers us with exactly what we need. It is an exercise in seeing God and the gifts from his hand. The practice of giving thanks points us toward the giver of good gifts.

Count the blessings

During the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, find regular time to sit with your families and talk about the things for which you are thankful. If we do this regularly, we will move past our pat answers and begin to grow in awareness of the many blessings we receive each day. Suddenly our easy thankfulness for “home,” “family,” and “food” will broaden and begin to include specific moments noticed and felt in the midst of an ordinary day. Teaching children to develop this thinking in preparation for Thanksgiving may then become a habit that will extend into a life that is tuned in to the blessings of God.

Make appreciation visible

There are lots of ways to draw our hearts to see God's gifts. Creating links on a chain or hanging thankfulness collages are ways to remind us of God's faithfulness. In our home, we have created a “Thanksgiving Tree.” Beginning with nothing more than some twigs stuck nicely into a small pot, it is a place where we write down those thankful things. Each night, we hang a “leaf” onto the tree with a simply stated moment of gratitude. At the end of the month, we will have a visual reminder of how truly blessed we are. 

Shift the focus

Time goes very quickly, but the lessons we learn are worth our time. We need to learn to spend our time focusing less on the meal and preparation and more on the point of the day. And perhaps as we learn to be grateful, we will be preparing ourselves for the holiday to come. Opening our hearts to the ways God has loved us can help us clearly see ourselves as God's beloved and guide us to share that love with others.


About the author — Nadia Swearingen-Friesen

Nadia Swearingen-Friesen is a writer and national speaker with a passion for empowering parents to approach their families with great intentionality and grace.  Nadia and her husband, Mark, are the parents of four children and live in the Chicago area. Nadia also blogs at

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