Thanksgiving: It’s an ugly day for many kids

family Thanksgiving traditions
Many children will never experience a "picture perfect" Thanksgiving holiday

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, children’s ministry leaders and teachers are thinking about how to teach the children under their care about God’s view of giving thanks.

At first blush, it seems simple. For example, we might ask the children to think about what they are thankful for. Cool toys, a nice house, the latest award for sports or the arts, parents, brothers and sisters, the dog, the cat, even the pet lizard that seems to keep ending up on the kitchen counter while Mom and Dad are cooking dinner….

So, Thanksgiving in the minds of many children becomes a focus on giving thanks for what they have: possessions, relationships, accomplishments, and other kinds of blessings.

And why shouldn’t it? It is typically what is modeled for them. To be sure, they should be thankful. And so should we as adults and leaders. But is that the final word on thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving and Ministering to Children Who Suffer

What about those families whose parents and/or children are suffering? Marginalized? Hurting to such a degree they are rocked to their core? How do we teach thanksgiving to them? Who can possibly understand the emotional space they are in?

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words concerning contentment and thanksgiving in Philippians 4: 1-14. Whether he had plenty or was in need, he had learned to be content. Indeed, in verse six he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Even in the hard times we can be thankful. To the church of Corinth he writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:7-9).

Children who suffer do not need trite assurances in the form of an offhand comment. They need comfort exemplified by faith lived out daily with them. They need to be heard, understood, and loved. Although we cannot always provide immediate resolutions to their needs, we can offer the ministry of presence which expresses thankfulness for who they are now and how God has sustained them to this point. This ministry of thankful presence looks forward to the hope that God has for them, regardless of their current circumstances.

Think about the children you influence. Are there any who require special consideration during this season of emphasis on thanksgiving? Pray about how you might facilitate a ministry of godly, attentive presence for them. Your actions will lend credibility to the words you prayerfully choose to share with them.

Need More Ideas? Many of our suggestions related to hurting kids on father’s day and mother’s day are relevant here. We’ve also posted a special prayer for suffering children around the world.


  1. Kathy says

    Thank you for this awesome reminder. For our suffering children, caught in the crossfire of family desolation, in-fighting and abandonment, praise our good Heavenly Father- He is the One to whom they can trust their hearts and loves them unconditionally.

  2. marie virelili says

    Thank you for remind us about our suffering children.
    It is very true, because Jesus love every children. He care
    for all their situations.

    God bless you.

  3. mary davis says

    Each and every holiday can be a source of great stress for kids these days. If they’re in a shared custody situation, they’ll spend the holiday–or half the holiday–with one parent or another, and “that side” of the family. It’s unacknowledged and often the uneasiness the kids feel is ignored. They’ll be forced into emotional survival mode. So it’s great if you know the life situations of those in your care–and give a little extra grace to the ones who are needing to let off some emotional steam.

  4. says

    Thank you so much, everyone, for the kind words. It means a lot. Tony, thank you especially for inviting me to be part of this ministry. I look forward to the ongoing conversation!

  5. says

    This was a fabulous post. So true. Thank you for the reminder to be attentive and compassionate to children in our ministries who are suffering.

  6. Julie Snyder says

    When I read your post, Jeremiah 29:11 also came into my mind. I have often clung to this verse as a way to be thankful for my present situation for I know that it will be uses for good.

  7. says

    great post…we do need to think about all of the children we minister to…I know I can think of a few within my ministry that need some extra support this time of year. Thank you!


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