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The Magic Words

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Are you familiar with the phrase, “Say the magic words!”? I don’t hear it often anymore, but as a child I heard it almost daily, either from my parents or parents of my friends. It was their prompt to get us to say “please” and “thank-you”, and was every child’s first lesson in manners.

Teaching a child to say those words doesn’t automatically make him grateful, but the words themselves are very powerful, and can work almost like magic—especially “thank you.” The simple two-word phrase, “thank you,” has the power to completely transform reality–or at least, how we perceive it.

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, he urges them to, “ . . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess. 5:18 NIV) This goes far beyond the appropriate response for a birthday gift. Does Paul really mean we are to thank God in ALL circumstances?

As crazy as it sounds, what I’ve found is that the act of thanking God even in difficult circumstances works like magic in transforming the way I see reality. When I express thanks to God in the midst of difficult or unpleasant circumstances, I start to see beyond the thing I’m resisting and start to remember something bigger and more important— God made me, knows me, loves me. He uses everything, including this difficulty, for his purpose, which is always good for me. I tend to think something is good if it makes me feel comfortable/in control, but his purpose is to move me beyond comfort to maturity, wisdom, his presence. As I direct my thoughts to his goodness, I remember that all suffering is temporary–I can move forward knowing it won’t last forever. With each step I move closer to the end of my current suffering, whatever it might be, and to God himself.

This is freedom. It’s freedom from my natural compulsion to complain about difficulties, freedom to do the difficult or unpleasant things I have to do without chafing at them or pushing to change my circumstances, freedom to accept and rest in the fact that I’m not God, but he is.

With your children, begin by teaching them to say “please” and “thank you”; it’s an important first step in helping them to appreciate things and people. But let them also see your example of thanking God when things are tough. Explain it to them: “Kids, I am really frustrated. I feel like complaining, but I know God loves me and knows what’s best, so I’m thanking him.” Of course you won’t say this every time, but your attitude grateful acceptance sets the tone for your whole family; your thankfulness, or lack of it, will rub off on them. And, seeing you accept having to do things you’d rather not do will help them as they learn to obey you.

To help the message and the magic of “thank you” really sink in, try these strategies:

  1. First, YOU begin to practice giving thanks in all circumstances , especially the unpleasant or difficult ones. Write I Thess. 5:16 on an index card and post it in different places around the house; make it your motto.

  2. With your kids, practice the please-and-thank-you pattern for all kinds of things, not just gifts. o Would you please pass the potatoes? Thank you! o May I watch TV please? Thank you! o May I play with your toy for a few minutes? Thank you!

  3. Teach children to face the giver when they say “thank you,” to make eye contact, and to SMILE 😊; allow them to receive the thing that’s being given to them only after this process is complete.

  4. Set up various scenarios to practice this at home, acting out each one and having each person take turns being the “giver” (the one being asked for something).

  5. Teach the “giver” to always say, “You’re welcome!” with a happy smile. It completes the exchange, and it’s respectful; don’t just ignore someone thanking you.

  6. Regularly thank God for “ . . . our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.” (Book of Common Prayer), and gently encourage your children to say “thank you” even in difficult situations.

Saying “thank you” is powerful and transformative; it changes the way you see things, it changes the atmosphere in your home, and it changes your heart. Your children will observe and imitate you. Saying “thank you” puts the focus on the giver rather than on yourself.  Of course, the ultimate giver is God, and we never lose when we keep our eyes on him.

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