Susie Larson: I have a shunt in my arm. I’ve got the IV bag hanging from our miniblinds, which are kinda crooked and broken from all the heavy IV bags. And at this particular day, my boys were at a friend’s house and my husband came in the door, trying to keep joy in the home. “I’m home,” he says and boom, the floor gives way beneath him and he drops up to his armpits in our entryway.
Jim Daly: Oh, my goodness.
Susie: Yes and it’s a little split entry, so I’ve got my IV. Oh, and the dryer was broken, so we had a rope hanging of ratty clothes in our living room, all the clothes that I wanted to burn–
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Susie: –’cause we just had no money to replace anything. So, the dryer’s broken. Picture it. The clothes are hangin’ from a rope, ’cause it was winter. I’m hangin’ from this IV. I’m looking down through the spindles at my husband, who’s shell-shocked, up to his armpits in the hole. He was standing on the Christmas boxes in the closet (Chuckling) underneath. And I said, “We are pathetic losers!”
End of Excerpt:
John Fuller: Oh, maybe you’ve had those moments where you look around and everything seems to be falling apart and you’re thinking, what more can go wrong? We’re gonna be hearing how you can learn to be grateful in those moments and actually model gratefulness for your kids. This is “Focus on the Family,” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and last time we started a conversation with two special ladies. Susie Larson, a radio personality, speaker and author and Lisa Anderson, who heads up Focus on the Family’s Boundless broadcast and podcast and we’ll recommend you check that out sometime. Our topic is thankfulness and thankfulness can be very difficult when you’ve got challenges in life. And Susie shared last time, she had experienced a lot of pain and heartache. But God has a plan and you’ll hear more about that as Jim Daly continues this conversation now with Susie and Lisa.
Jim: When you look at the world today, I am sure you could find things to be disgruntled about, things that are rubbing you the wrong way, things that you don’t want to be thankful for. And you know what? Frankly, it’s completely rational to have those, I think, to have those attitudes, but you know what? As Christians, the Lord calls us to something greater. And that’s like in Colossians 3:16 where it’s written there, “Let the Word of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed, you were called in one body, and be thankful.”
That says to me that when we have the Word of Christ, the scriptures in our hearts, then it’s easier to be thankful for all things. We don’t act out of our natural humanity. Our guest today is a well-known author and speaker, Susie Larson and she has some wonderful things to share with us about being thankful and teaching our kids how to live with a grateful heart. Susie, it’s great to have you back.
Susie: Good to be with you, Jim. Thanks for having me.
Jim: We last time for those that didn’t hear it, last time we touched on your life and the impact that you had with some horrific situations—sexual and physical abuse as a teenager, not from your family, but from friends of your brothers and other things.
Unfortunately, that is too often a common experience in our culture and I applaud your courage to even talk about it. And if you didn’t hear that last time, I would encourage you to download it. Get the CD, get it on your SmartPhone, your iPhone, I mean, there are so many ways you can listen. It will be a great instruction to you to hear Susie’s story and how she has written a book, Growing Grateful Kids, comes right from her heart. And I’m looking forward to opening it up today. Lisa, it’s great to have you back at the microphone, as well.
Lisa Anderson: Great to be back here. I just resonated so much with Susie’s story and that, because while I didn’t grow up with a history of abuse or an incident of abuse, I had a season, moving from my late 20s into my 30s, where I had some very big job difficulties. I lost my dad and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis within the course of about a year. And that was literally the day my doctor sat me down and said, “Lisa, you have rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cure for it. We’re not close to a cure and many people die early of this disease.
And that’s where I entered a season of getting worse, worse, worse, just like Susie said yesterday, that I just thought, okay, well, I’m single and I’m just useless anyway and so, God just needs to take me home. And it was very much a season of self-loathing and just understand, I have no purpose. There’s nothing.
And so, to live out of that gratefulness, I think, Susie, what you had to say was so encouraging in light of that, to know, ’cause I had to walk through that season, too. And there’s no way I could’ve made that easier. There was no Band-Aid that could’ve been put on it, but to understand that, wow, looking back on it, God had total purpose in that and the way I view people, the way I view suffering, the way I view elderly folk. I mean, they were the ones I talked to. They had arthritis—
Jim: Sure (Chuckling)
Lisa: –you know. I mean, it was huge for me as a 20-something to understand that.
Jim: Well, and of course, praying for the Lord for that relief is always present–
Jim: –and a thing I’m sure you do, Lisa, but yet–
Lisa: But He didn’t solve it.
Jim: –you may not hear—
Jim: –from Him in that way, like Paul and the thorn in his side. Susie, we left off last time talking a lot about your background, what gives you the heart of gratitude. And it is somewhat difficult for people to understand that when you go through traumatic circumstances, that you’re at the bottom of the barrel, you know, as we talk about, whatever that might be. And maybe you are in that spot and it’s a different circumstance from Susie’s, but you’re relating to her pain. The question again that I want to get to is more the practical application. How do you begin to pull back the yoke of your life’s airplane and get altitude, when it comes to gratitude?
It’s so easy as Lisa was just saying, to stay down low in that self-loathing part. We almost do it as a mantra in the Christian commu[nity], “How’re you doin’?” “I’m really overworked; I’m tired. I live down here; I’m really discouraged.” And we should be living lives that are full of light, full of grace, fully of joy. But people are having a hard time getting there. Help us again. How did you begin to get to that point where you could say, “Lord, I’m grateful, even though I don’t have much?”
Susie: Well, I think it’s 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that says, “In all things, you know, give thanks to the Lord.” That’s my paraphrase. But the Bible is very clear, Jim, that God inhabits the praises of His people. And again, I just want to reset. I wasn’t a naturally grateful person. I was a naturally fearful, full of anxiety type of person. And so, this was climbing a mountain for me, to crawl my way up and go, “I need a perspective from You, Lord, ’cause all I can see is the low ground and how bad the land feels right now. But as I climb up for perspective and I start to see things from Your perspective, then my eyes actually open up to all the more that I have.”
And it really culminated for me one day and my husband’s 6’3″. I think Lisa and Jim, you both met him before. He’s 260 pounds. He’s a big guy. And he was such a saint during that time. And we had this little split-entry house that was falling apart because of all the stuff we were going through and we didn’t have the money to fix it.
And if you can picture the day. I’m on this couch that I just had spent six months on pregnancy bed rest, so the springs are popping, ’cause I was growin’ deep and wide on that (Laughing), while growing the baby in my belly. And right from that I went back to bed on that couch, ’cause of Lyme disease.
I have a shunt in my arm. I’ve got the IV bag hanging from our mini-blinds, which are kinda crooked and broken from all the heavy IV bags. And at this particular day, my boys were at a friend’s house. And my husband came in the door, trying to keep joy in the home. “I’m home!” he says. And boom, the floor gives way beneath him and he drops [in] a hole, up to his armpits in our entryway.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Susie: Yes! And oh, and the dryer was broken, so we had a rope hanging of ratty clothes in our living room—
Jim: (Chuckling) Oh, my goodness.
Susie: –all the clothes that I wanted to burn; we just had no money to replace anything. So, the dryer’s broken. Picture it. The clothes are hanging from a rope, ’cause it was winter. I’m hanging from this IV. I’m looking down through the spindles at my husband, who’s shell-shocked, up to him armpits in the hole. He was standing on the Christmas boxes in the closet (Laughing). And I said, “We are pathetic losers!” You know, and we kinda had a good laugh about it, otherwise I would’ve cried.
Jim: Did he just have to crawl out of the hole? How—
Susie: He crawled—
Jim: –did he get … ?
Susie: –out. (Laughter) He was up to his armpits and he crawled out and he put a piece of plywood over the hole. And I remember wanting to break down and just sob and I just sensed the nudge, “Open your journal.” And so, I started to write, “Lord, thank You for a husband who keeps coming home, ’cause he could still keep driving,” you know. “Thank You that I do have food in my fridge. Thank You that I have a roof over my head. Thank You that I can actually drink water out of this tap and not be afraid to get sick. Thank You that I have three little boys who don’t know we are in this crisis of our lives. Thank You by faith that I will not die, but I will live and declare the works of the Lord.”
And I filled three pages of things that I was thankful for and it was sacred. That’s what I mean. God does move in when you are thankful. I felt a buoy of hope with everything I wrote. And at that moment. I was the richest woman alive. But the minute I would look to the left or right and commit the sin of comparison, I was the poorest woman alive. And it was just again, a sacred exercise for me to say, this is not about your circumstances. It is about your heart. I mean, it just is.
You can’t blame your circumstances. You can’t attribute them to how great you are or point to them to say, this is why I’m absolved of responsibility. That’s a hard word, but as Christ followers, His Word is true for us and there is reasons [sic] to give Him thanks, whether we see them or not.
Jim: Two things you said there just to amplify ’em, because it just hits me. One is that idea that when you are grateful, when you are faithful, God turns toward you.
Susie: He does.
Jim: I believe that. I felt that as a boy myself going through all the trauma I was going through, that He just needs that spark of faith. And you literally can feel Him move in your heart. It’s hard to explain, but I think it’s something He delights when you show Him, especially when the world is upon your shoulders like that, when it’s all goin’ bad.
Jim: And like Job, you still have the ability to say, “Lord, I believe.” It catches His ear.
Susie: He moves on every act prompted by our faith. And in Psalm 126 it says, “He who sows in tears, will reap with shouts of joy.” They weep as they plant their seeds, but they come back rejoicing with the harvest in their arms. That was one verse I hung onto. And I gotta tell you, it matters to God when you thank Him, because that’s when it’s hard, because that’s a sacrifice of praise. It matters when you believe Him when your circumstances tell you everything else. And you come through the other side. I think it matters how you go through hard times, because it determines how you fare on the other side.
Jim: Absolutely. I was just looking at Philippians here as you were talking, Philippians 4:6, which is a Scripture that many of us know, but do we believe it?
Jim: That’s the question.
Jim: We could know it; it says in the Scripture that demons know the Word.
Jim: They know God and they, you know, do their …
Lisa: Well, don’t you sometimes, Susie, have to sit down and write it out? I mean, I’m assuming that everything on those three pages, you weren’t immediately like, oh, I’m gonna claim this right now. I believe it fully. But that—
Susie: No, most of it—
Lisa: –act of writing.
Susie: Most of it was writing what was really already true.
Susie: Because that’s the thing is, we’re richer than we know. And that is what’s so important for us to know, is that He does care that we thank Him, but it is an act of our will.
Jim: Well, and let me point that Scripture out. It says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything …” Oh, man, we suffer in the West on that one, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” You know, for us, I think we don’t understand a thankful heart.
Susie: And you know what, Jim? I’d say hard times now looking back after stuff we’ve walked through, they’re an opportunity to make a believer out of you.
Susie: Do you really believe this stuff? Because if you tell your kids to be thankful, you tell them that God is good, but they see you worrying more than you do pray. You know, if they see you picking apart somebody more than you do believe the best about them, this is why we have to wrestle this stuff to the ground ourselves and so, your hard times are perfect opportunities to make a believer out of you. Do you believe this stuff? Because to me, it’s the difference when you’re trying to teach your kids character, gratitude. It’s the difference between a speaker who Googles his speech and just relays something that somebody else put together and a speaker who imparts it from their gut, because they’ve walked it and lived
Susie: And that’s I think, where we gotta parent from, is to say, son, daughter, I have wrestled this thing to the ground. I know this to be true. Hear me in this. He will come through for us. To me, that’s so different than, “Say thank you.”
Jim: That’s was the other point I wanted to grab a moment ago, was you called it “the sin of comparison.” And you just touched on it again. Elaborate on that. Is it a sin to be comparing to what others have?
Susie: I think it is and let me tell you why. The fruits that come out of comparison are pride or despair. So, you compare and you come out ahead and you’re like, “Ah, I’m not so bad.” Pride is what got the enemy kicked out of heaven. God distances Himself from the proud. We taught our kids that pride is the most insidious sin and we went after that thing in them like selfishness.
Jim: Can I ask you, how did you approach that? Because a lot of parents hearing this, they’re connected to your story right now. They’re going, wow; our lives have been relatively easy compared to what I’m hearing. And I can see that root of pride in my children. They’ve had a meal on the table. Every meal has been there for ’em. We live in a nice neighborhood. We have good jobs. How do they teach their kids to have that attitude when things are going okay?
Susie: Well, always I would say with humility. I mean, when we would start to see it spring up with our kids, we would sit them down and say, “Do you understand that it’s not that life is good because you’re good. I mean, you get to play this role on this football team because we actually have the money to sign you up. And there are a 1,000 kids who could probably play twice as good as you who will never have this opportunity. God has given you a gift, but He’s also given you opportunity. It’s yours to steward and steward well with a thankful heart. So, just to look at opportunities.
But I also used the TV a lot. I was the queen of that remote control and I made no apology about it. If I would see pride in action, I’d push pause. Do you see how that looks? How does what he just did make you feel? It gives me nausea. Well, that’s what pride looks like to God, too. And so, this is something that is not a small thing. So, when we commit the sin of comparison and come out on top, pride is sinful.
But you know what else is when you come out on the bottom and you despair. You lose sight of everything you do have. And so, that also puts you in the ditch and so, I think looking to the right or left is committing the sin of comparison.
Jim: I gotta press you a little bit though, Susie. I mean, your kids, they’re older now. They’re all married. They’re doin’ great. Did they have bumps in the road? I mean—
Susie: Oh, my.
Jim: –they sound like they’re angels.
Susie: Oh, they so are not angels. I’m a faster and a prayer. (Laughter)
Jim: Okay, so they’re normal.
Susie: They’re normal. A couple of them took the long road home and in some ways, but it was good for me, ’cause it reminded me that’s not up to them to prove my identity and that there’s not a formula in parenting.
Can I just say if there’s one of the most valuable things I learned is, that parenting is not a formula that guarantees an outcome. It is an offering that promises a harvest. And the harvest is gonna probably look different than you think. And the reason this is important is because as a radio host, I get books across my desk from people who have kids that are like ages 4 and 6 and they’re writing a parenting book with a formula that guarantees an outcome. And it’s devastating to parents who did right and didn’t get right. There are plenty of godly parents who showed up for this parenting thing, but their kids have a will, just as we have a will.
Susie: You can’t make your kids Christian and if you think you can and you did your best and they turned out well, get on your knees and raise your hands and thank God. But if you did your best and their still not pointin’ in the right direction, God is with you and He loves you. And don’t doubt the seeds that you’ve planted. I would just pray by faith, “Lord, this is not a formula that guarantees an outcome. This is an offering that promises a harvest.” And I just think that’s so important.
But I’ll just tell you, after I got sick and I started to get better, my husband ended up with cancer. So we had our—
Susie: –okay, I’m just telling you.
Jim: Just keeps comin’.
Susie: It did and it was hard, but by then we were different. We had shifted our hope onto the Lord. But he was finishing this family room in our next house that we were in and he got sick. And so, he had to stop the construction, so it was a plywood floor, sheetrock walls, but he has his TV in his fireplace and an easy chair. And so, he would come home from radiation and he’d cover up with a blanket. And the kids never wanted to go out with their friends. They wanted to sit by his feet and they never wanted to leave him. So, friends would come and say, “Hey, you want to come out and play?” ‘I just want to be with my dad.” It was so sweet.
But one day a woman brought a meal and a toy for each of them. And they’re all lined up playing a videogame on the TV. Dad’s sleepin’. And I’m like, “Boys, isn’t it so nice what she brought?” And they weren’t looking, weren’t paying any attention. And I’m like, “What do you say?” And on cue, all three turned around and said, “Sorry.” (Laughter) I’m like, wrong programmed response. Thank you. And I was mortified, but I’m like, okay, I’m doing my best here.
Jim: Okay, now you’re connecting with all of us. Oh, yeah, she—
Jim: –does have normal kids.
Susie: Yeah, yeah, oh, they were used to saying sorry, yeah.
Jim: Oh, I’m mortified at some points. You know, that’s parenting, but I mean, we have …
Susie: They’re not there to make you look good.
Jim: We had some guests over to the house for dinner and they had bought, which was really sweet of them, it wasn’t anybody’s birthday, but they brought little gifts for for our two boys. So, at the very end of the evening, they gave them the gifts and (Chuckling), my youngest at the time, he opened it up and he went, “Oh, I’ve already got one of these.” (Laughter) I about sank. I was going, no, wrong—
Susie: Do you have the gift receipt–
Jim: –wrong response.
Susie: –and exchange it?
Jim: So, they politely said, “Oh, that’s too bad. You know, maybe you can give it to a friend,” which was very generous of them.
Susie: Oh, that’s sweet.
Jim: And we said goodnight and boy did I say, “Troy, hey, when that happens, you just say thank you. Thank you for this and don’t be, you know, lookin’ down on a gift.”
Jim: And you know, he said, “Oh, okay, Dad.” But you find yourself in that place as a parent, don’t you?
Susie: You so do and I want to make it clear. My boys are good men, but they weren’t angels and they did have me on my knees. But I will tell you, their choices tested something in me and I think this is really important when it comes to raising grateful kids. Again, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. And so, we have to wrestle this whole idea of walking with God and being grateful ourselves, so that we can impart it to them.
But when they start to make choices that reflect their own fallen nature, your identity can’t come from them, because if our kids are our source, that’s idolatry and it’s too much pressure for them. They’re a gift to be stewarded. And so, when their choices trigger something in you, that’s on you. And you’ve gotta get with God and say, what is this bringing up in me? Because they’re not meant to carry the burden of your identity.
And it’ll be tempting to do that, good and bad. You might get a lot of pride because they turned out well or despair because they didn’t. And I think it’s really important to understand. This thing is an offering. These kids are gifts, but their walk, as they walk it out, you’ve gotta just trust that this is between them and the Lord. You pray. You do your best and you leave the rest.
Jim: Yeah, that’s good advice and that’s humility as a parent. You’re listening to “Focus on the Family.” Today’s guest is Susie Larson, her book, Growing Grateful Kids. Lisa Anderson from Boundless is joining me and Lisa, you’re ready to jump in here. You got springing up.
Lisa: I have a question for both of you as parents, ’cause of course, not having kids, but I do have many nieces and nephews and this is something that’s kind of been of interest to me.
Jim: So, you’re the one that spoils these kids; that’s the problem
Lisa: I try not to. I am kind of that aunt that’s like, ’cause I travel a lot and like when I come back, “What did you bring me? What did you bring me?” And my question for you is, do parents have to actively, especially again, bringing up the first-world country thing, do you have to counteract affluence? I mean, my sister and her husband live in this kind of gated Stepford Wives community. And my nephews growing up, when the birthday parties came around, it was like the kid down the street brought in the bounce houses and the—
Lisa: –slides. Then the next kid brought in the complete magic show and some entertainment, whatever.
Jim: Something big.
Lisa: Yeah, it’s always big. And then my sister’s like, well, what am I gonna do? And as believers, do they keep up because they can or do they say, no, we shouldn’t keep up, because there are kids across the world (Chuckling) that are doing … how do you deal with that as parents and keeping that Christian worldview of possessions?
Jim: Yeah, Susie, I mean, for me and Jean, what we try to do is punctuated pain. And what I mean by that is, we’ll scale back sometimes, like at Christmas. If we’re sensing that the “spoiledness” is creeping in, we’ll say, hey, you know, this Christmas, what we want to do is one gift. And you’ve got a couple of other gifts.
Lisa: And your kids are like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah, no, not usually, in fact, what? Why? But we talk to them about, you know, the idea of Christmas is about giving, not about taking and receiving. And so, I think they’ve done reasonably well at that, but you’ve gotta look for what I would call points of punctuated pain. You want to not overindulge them. I think as parents, we’re all prone to overindulging our kids, especially if you can afford it and you’ve gotta fight the temptation to do that. Would you agree?
Susie: I love what you just said, because it speaks to also being very sensitive to the season of their lives, because again, if we go on autopilot with our kids, as if there’s a one-size-fits-all, we’ll miss those sacred teachable moments. But I think if you sense that you’re in a season, you make those adjustments. I think those are the most profound things. And I think it needs to be said. You can’t teach compassion and empathy by conking them on the head or using guilt, you know? Eat up; people are starving around the world. That never works.
Lisa: That’s what I got—
Susie: But I think—
Lisa: –growing up.
Susie: –yeah, but coming underneath it with compassion and humility and gratitude is a whole different thing. And one thing we did on Christmas morning is we’d gather together every Christmas morning before the presents and we would spend some significant time when they were young, too, and they looked forward to it. But we would pray for our military and their families.
Susie: We would pray for trafficking victims. We’d pray for the poor, for missionaries. And we would just say, you know that the majority of the world doesn’t get to do this and this is such a—
Susie: –wonderful gift from God and we’re gonna enjoy this. But before that, we’re gonna remember those who don’t have this.
Jim: That’s a good idea.
Susie: It was really a sacred time and literally even when they got to be teens, they didn’t even think about it. They’d walk right by the toys and go, who are we gonna pray for this morning?
And I think even taking them when you can, like when they’re teens on a mission trip and show them the other part of the world. But you can also take ’em to a local foster care county office and paint the walls and they may roll their eyes.
And those lessons take time. Time seasons those lessons. They may not like it initially, but you just have to interrupt their plans to be selfish and expose them to things. But I say in a compassionate … like we’re in a position to help. Isn’t this great? And be aware that there’s others [sic] who have needs. And you just come at it, I feel like from a humble place, it helps cultivate a sense of, I’m participating with God and doing something that’s near to His heart, rather than again, an “ought to” and a “should do.”
Jim: Well, and I like Tim Kimmel, you know, a parenting expert and he’s written many books, but he also encourages parents to get their kids at the youngest age possible to volunteer—
Jim: –kind of what you’re saying.
Susie: Oh, I love that.
Jim: And just jump in and make that part of your family’s creed, that you do volunteer work together and that’s something that you know, in our busy schedules all of us, it’s hard to do that, but it can be one of the most valuable things to teach your children that attitude of gratitude and that’s a good thing to do.
Jim: As your kids got older, was that harder, Susie when they were 16, 17? What did you do to continue that tradition or new traditions to help them maintain gratitude in their hearts?
Susie: Well, a couple things. One thing is, we wanted them to remain teachable and that might be tricky to think about cultivating gratitude. But somebody once said, you can’t grow beyond your ability to receive correction. And so, there’s a big difference between giving a blessing and singing their praises. And so, we would have these family meetings about once a month and we weren’t rigid about it, but just according to the need.
But we would always use those family times to go around and this provided opportunity for communication. So, we would go around. Each of us were on the hot seat where we would say a growth area and a strength area.
And so, to have a forum where they could say, these are strength areas; these are growth areas. But we wanted them to know that when you get out in the world, you have bosses who are gonna confront you. You have spouses who are gonna confront you. You have to separate what you do with who you are. This is not an indictment on who you are. But if you really want to be everything God wants you to be, you gotta be able to receive correction.
And I had one son who lived in the corner. He was our strong-willed child. He like had permanent residence there is seemed, you know. And when he graduated, he said, “I know I was a handful. I know I said ‘up’ every time you said ‘down’ and ‘right’ every time you said ‘left.’” But he said, “You never made me feel like a troubled child. You always made me feel like nothing was impossible if I learned to respect authority.” And he said, “Thank you for that.” And I was like blown away, because I did feel like the kid lived in the corner. But he said, “Now when my boss corrects me or, you know, my wife brings a correction, it’s almost instinctive for me to separate who I am with what I do.” And so, that was one of those things that they were grateful for later.
Jim: And the idea there, Susie, not to shame them. So many parents, we’re shaming our kids into tryin’ to get the behavior we want.
Jim: But it comes at a great cost.
Susie: That is a critical point and that I feel so strongly about, too, because you