It was the spring of 1972 and my 12th birthday was only a few weeks away. With each passing day, my excitement grew. Unlike previous years, I knew exactly what I wanted and had made sure to drop several not so subtle hints to my parents. I was certain that this year I would get what I so strongly desired, a boy’s 10-speed bike with rounded handlebars. In my daydreams I could picture myself riding it to my friends’ houses, waving to people I passed as my hair blew in the wind.
The day finally arrived. As usual, my birthday party was shared with my brother, whose birthday was just one day after mine. The butterflies in my stomach were so active I could barely eat any cake. We were down to the last gift when my parents brought my brother and me out to the garage where there were two large objects covered with cloths. This is it! I thought. They lifted the cloth off my brother’s gift first, revealing a black three-speed bike with regular handlebars. I’m glad I’m not getting that, I thought to myself. I couldn’t wait to see my beautiful ten-speed. They removed the covering from my gift. My heart sank and I fought back tears. There before me was the twin to my brother’s bicycle, black paint and all.
There has to be some mistake. I’ll look like the Wicked Witch of the West riding that thing. The tears threatened to spill over as I thanked my parents. “Go on, try it,” they said. Reluctantly, I climbed on the bike and pedaled it up and down my street a couple of times. When I returned, I parked it in the garage, determined to never ride it again.
It wasn’t until my grandfather had a chat with me that things changed. He asked me why he never saw me riding my bike. I gave him the honest answer – I hated that bike. He said that I asked for a bicycle and my parents got me a bicycle, that I should be grateful. I explained that it wasn’t the bike I asked for, and I was embarrassed to let people see me riding it. He shook his head and looked directly into my eyes as he spoke the words I dreaded most, “I’m disappointed in you.” He went on to tell me how difficult it was for my parents to purchase two bicycles at the same time and how hard my father had to work to be able to afford them. He described the sacrifices my dad had made in order to give me what I’d asked for. As my tears flowed freely this time, he finished by saying, “You didn’t get exactly what you asked for, but you did get what you needed – and at quite a cost to your parents. I expect to see your attitude change.” From that day forward, I rode that bike with gratitude for the love and sacrifice of my parents.
So many times in our Christian walks, we need to learn this exact same lesson of gratitude. We spend time in prayer, as we should, but if you’re anything like me, I keep finding my prayers filled with requests. Requests are fine – God wants us to bring our requests to Him. However, a big part of prayer is recognizing who God is and who we are before Him. If our thoughts are focused on Him, then praising Him and expressing gratitude to Him for all He has blessed us with and the sacrifice He made for us, comes very naturally. It’s when we’re focused on ourselves that our prayers become long on requests and short on thankfulness. We pray like we expect God to give us whatever we desire, but God, instead of giving us what we ask for, gives us what we need. Sometimes those things are the same, but many times they are different. It’s so easy to be grateful when God says yes to our requests, the trick is being grateful when He says no or gives us something other than what we desire. Instead of behaving like a spoiled child, we need to accept what God has given us with gratitude and humility. The truth is, we don’t deserve anything. So, anything He gives us is truly a gift, and we can always be sure that God has our best interests at heart. No matter the answer, our attitude should be one of gratitude.
So, whenever we find that petulant child trying to assert herself, let’s remember two things. First, God did not promise to give us everything we want, but instead, everything we need. And second, God gave us the greatest gift of all – eternal life through Jesus Christ – and at quite a cost to Himself. If we remember those two things, then we will live each day with gratitude for the love and sacrifice of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. A sacrifice we neither asked for or deserve.