In our materialistic culture, even Christians sometimes fall for the insidious belief that acquiring more things leads to happiness.

But Scott and Debbie Piper of Strongsville, Ohio, and their five children have found a different kind of fulfillment. Together, this family went on several missions trips to the poorest areas of Piedras Negras, Mexico.

As a result, their children found many reasons to be thankful – none of them materialistic. Their experiences with those living in poverty have shaped the Piper children into grateful young adults who appreciate God’s blessings.

"I have definitely noticed a change in our family regarding material things," Scott said. "I see that stuff doesn’t mean quite as much. Serving the poor helped our children see for themselves how fortunate they are. It has been an eye-opener to see the living conditions of the people who live in the garbage dumps."

In Piedras Negras, a variety of projects kept the Piper family working together. They helped build a church and homes, cared for children, gave haircuts and distributed food. The Pipers’ missions teams brought supplies such as kitchen and construction equipment. To share the Gospel, they often showed The Jesus Film.

Inner-city meals

While the Pipers’ four oldest children are now grown and on their own, Scott still continues to serve with his youngest son, William. They go to inner-city Cleveland on Friday nights to feed the hungry. Scott drives a converted school bus, which carries about 200 meals prepared by volunteers from several churches. The team shares the Gospel with those who are interested.

Aside from their missions work, the Pipers used other strategies to curtail materialism and cultivate gratitude in their children. "Scott and I directed their attention to what we have rather than what we lack," Debbie said. "We focused on experiences and relationships rather than things. Our family spent lots of time enjoying metro parks, museums, camping and cooking. The highlight was inviting others to join us. We avoided places like the mall, where prices are high and kids become envious of the things they can’t buy."

Ways to develop thankfulness

Fostering a thankful heart in children always begins in the home. And although your family may not be able to serve the Lord on the mission field as the Piper family did, you can do other things:

  • Opportunities for families to serve the Lord abound in your church and local nursing homes and with elderly neighbours who need help. All you have to do is ask.

  • To forestall envious attitudes, teach your children that God blesses people in different ways for His purposes. Point out that there will always be those who have more and those who have less than you.

  • Use the media to your advantage. News reports of wealthy celebrities whose lives have fallen into ruin remind you that money and fame aren’t the answers to happiness. As you explain life lessons from others’ examples, your children will learn that the Lord is the source of joy.

  • Let your children see that you aren’t always perfect. We’ve all been guilty of wanting something that belongs to others. As they see how you overcome a "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality, it will help them learn how to deal with similar feelings.

  • Cultivate thanksgiving in prayer, and teach your children to do the same. It’s easy to ask God for things, but often we forget to praise and thank Him for how He chooses to answer our prayers. Explain that God answers prayers in ways different than we expect or want.

  • Make dinnertime fun by asking each person to share something he or she is thankful for that day. This helps each one consider what God has done.

  • Don’t say yes to everything your children want. If you give too much, they won’t appreciate what they have. As a result, they become ungrateful and don’t take care of their possessions. Show them how to earn money, save it and spend wisely.

While our culture looks for happiness in possessions, we can show our children where true fulfillment is found – in selfless service, loving relationships and a grateful heart.

Judy Gyde lived in Toledo, Ohio, at the time of publication and serves the Lord with her husband, Bruce.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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