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Our summer of gratitude

First slide

The first weekend after school got out, my wife and I panicked. We called a family meeting and told the kids we were thrilled for them … but that we’d “love it” if they could “set some goals” to “make the most of their summer.” They listened, exchanged skeptical glances and the meeting disbanded.

But two days later, the kids had an announcement. At dinner they took turns unveiling a draft of what they called “Today’s Tracker.” They gave an overview of a one-page, 50-point system made up of six sections: basic tasks (e.g., “make your bed,” “fold and deliver 10 items”); my three goals for today; how did I make someone smile today?; a true/false section (e.g., “I complimented someone today,” “I read for 20 minutes today,” “I prayed for someone today”); one thing I learned today; and “5 things I’m grateful for.”

“But we won’t do this on Saturdays and Sundays,” they declared in their opening negotiating salvo.

My wife and I thought we had died and gone to heaven — but we nodded cautiously, tried to suppress our smiles and said that we accepted their offer.

I knew I had to seal the deal immediately — so the very next morning I began writing daily notes to the kids and doling out incentives in the evenings for those who hit 45 or 50 points. At dinner I asked questions about the “trackers” and a raucous chorus of voices provided commentary.

As I write, I am looking at a folder of trackers overflowing with a record of our summer so far, including a combined 625 “things I’m grateful for.” We are due to hit 1,000 by the first day of school.

Here is a just a day and a half’s worth: M&Ms, the trampoline, caramel, medicine, grandparents, the zip line, C.S. Lewis, baseball, chalk, summer vacation, Reese’s, freedom, books, Navy SEALS, Padre Pio, “the privilege to watch Cars 3,” fishing, General Patton, mosquito bite cream, a loving family, “receiving the body and blood of Christ,” priests, my guardian angel, kickball, Texas, Legos, free will, veterans, Van Gogh, freedom in our country, “areas of ISIS that surrender,” watermelon, “the knowledge of God,” yellow teacups …

From the outset, the kids weighted the gratitude section at five points (“no repeats,” they specified in print). By comparison, the true/false items like “I did 60 minutes of physical activity today” and “I practiced the piano for 10 minutes today” were worth only four points apiece. You have to sweat for a full hour to get four exercise points. The five points for gratitude is a comparable walk in the park.

Pope Francis recently hung a “no complaining” sign on his door. Bishop Burbidge often quotes the saying, “A grateful heart silences a complaining voice.” “A grateful heart,” he has said, “allows me to see and to recognize God’s abundant blessings in my midst, each and every day.”

Is gratitude on the decline? A recent Templeton Foundation survey found that 60 percent of respondents thought “people are less likely to express gratitude today than 100 years ago.” Only 19 percent said that “most people today are more likely to have an attitude of gratitude than 10 or 20 years ago.”

If our kids set out early this summer to buck the national trend on gratitude, they haven’t yet told my wife and me. And if we come up short of 1,000 by the start of school, I’m going to get out my pen and put us over the top. After all, I’ve got a few things I’d like to write about my beautiful wife — and about some grateful kids who are teaching me what is really worth tracking (no repeats).

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is the bishop’s Delegate for Evangelization and Media.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017