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Do I Have To?

Occasionally I teach a Bible class at Sunday school for three- to five-year-olds. The group is very small, sometimes only four or five children. One of the girls, a frequent visitor, is very smart, outspoken, and strong-willed. On one recent occasion, she was refusing to come to class because her hair was messy, but she wouldn’t let her mother brush her hair because her mom forgot her favorite pink hairbands. I found pink ribbons in the arts and crafts box, and she graciously allowed me to braid her hair.

When I was done, despite her mom’s soft nudging and dad’s firm prompting, she wouldn’t say thank you. She finally crossed her arms over her chest, gave a stern look, and quietly asked, “Do I have to?”

For a second, I didn’t know what to say. “No, you don’t have to, my dear,” was followed by an elementary explanation about how politeness “smoothes” the rough spots of life and makes interactions somewhat easier, and that most of all, showing gratitude melts hearts, and a grateful spirit is always appreciated by others. That didn’t have the desired effect, and since the other children were waiting, I had to let it go and start the class.

That month had been tough for me emotionally. My son, who lives on another continent and whom I hadn’t seen in over a year, was supposed to come for a three-week visit. His older brother, who lives closer—but still abroad—planned to join us as well. We’d made adventurous plans, booked a place to stay, and had a series of fun-filled activities planned out. But his schedule changed, and all of it had to be cancelled.

I was so distraught that for a couple of weeks I couldn’t pull myself together. I even went as far as wondering if God really cared about me, as He had allowed something like this to happen. Later in the evening of that day, following the encounter with my Sunday school student, I couldn’t sleep and thought of my sons. Though they’re grown up, I can still remember cute and naughty antics from their early childhood. Why, oh why can’t I be with them now?! We had planned this meet-up for months! How come, God? I knew in my mind that I had no right to be frustrated with God, but in my heart I was.

Then I remembered the incident with the braids and pink ribbons. Does God see me as a stubborn girl with arms crossed over her chest? Am I childishly upset that things didn’t go my way, and am now disturbing others with my unhappy reactions?

I pulled out a worn-out photo album, laughing and crying while browsing old photos. So many amazing moments. So much love shared. In this one, I’m reading a bedtime story to my boys, five and two years old at the time. Here we are cooking together. There they are performing at a music school. In that one we’re playing a board game with their best friends.

I opened photo files on my computer. Here the three of us were together last winter in the mountains; the boys are snowboarding and I’m filming them. In the next one we’re riding horses, surrounded by a breathtaking view. Another is a group shot from some years ago when we were volunteering with a clowning troupe at the children’s hospital. Then a photo shoot from a few years ago of my younger son receiving a medal for graduating from school with honors. And then me taking a picture of my eldest son feeding peacocks last summer.

Then me last year: traveling through Europe, hiking in the mountains, swimming in the sea, attending a concert, visiting an art museum, painting a mural at an orphanage, studying at a university, cutting cake at my birthday party, meeting old friends and making new ones. Numerous adventures filled my heart with thankfulness. There are so many sweet memories and unforgettable moments to be thankful for!

Do I have to say “thank you” to God? Yes, I believe I do! In fact, I want to show Him my gratitude and to remind myself what a wonderful world He created for me to live in. I have to keep thanking God, for my sake, for the sake of other people, for the sake of my sons, and even for the sake of my future grandchildren, whom I will try to teach to say “thank you” to people and to the One who loves them most of all!

Mila Nataliya A. Govorukha is a youth counselor and volunteer in Ukraine.

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