It seems to me that our society has lost the art of graciousness. There was a time when we had an unwritten law about this-when graciousness was an integral part of our culture. Remember the cartoon, “Chip and Dale?” In almost every episode, the two chipmunks found themselves being chased by a dog. As they neared the entrance of their hole, they stopped and had the same discussion every time about who would enter first: “After you!” “No, I insist, after you!” Back and forth, back and forth the argument went. About that time, the dog leaped into the air, ready to pounce on them. Finally, one of the two gracious chipmunks gave in and entered the safety of home.

Very early in life, my parents taught me to respect and honor elderly people . . . or at least anyone over 30. These habits were so ingrained in my life that they became second nature. Any time I am traveling on a bus and an older person boards, I automatically stand to give up my seat. Yes, I am also one of those people who opens doors for ladies and says, “Yes, sir,” or “No, sir,” without even thinking about it. (Right now, I wish I had a video camera giving me a window into the lives of my Baptist Messenger readers. I am sure that the more mature among you, especially, are nodding your heads in agreement!)

By the way, my parents had a very practical way of building graciousness into the lives of their four sons. If we were not gracious or respectful, or if we failed to show good manners, my dad took us to a “board meeting” where he graciously introduced us to the “board of education.” The lessons of graciousness, like many good lessons, can sometimes be . . . painful.

One of God’s qualities is that He is always gracious. He was gracious to Sarah: “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised” (Genesis 21:1). He was gracious to Israel: “But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day He has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from His presence” (2 Kings 13:23). He is gracious to us: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). Jesus was also gracious: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked” (Luke 4:22).

Yes, teaching your children graciousness is teaching them to be like their heavenly Father, so of course it is teaching them to be like . . . Jesus. But there are other reasons you want your children to be gracious. Graciousness enlarges their reputations. It works like a magnifying glass to enhance and intensify the good things they do. For example, being known as a diligent worker is a good thing. Being known as a gracious and diligent worker is even better!

How do you build this quality into your children’s lives? Begin by modeling it in your home and family. Graciousness, like many other character qualities, is more caught than taught. Being gracious with your family members is one more way of saying, “I love you.”

Second, give your children practical skills for living a gracious life. Have your children make follow-up calls or write notes to thank someone for a gift or an opportunity. This will help them begin to learn the language of graciousness. For example: “I was honored that you would think of me on my birthday.” “Thank you for such a generous and thoughtful gift.” “Thanks for believing in my ability to accomplish this task.” Words like this demonstrate graciousness.

Finally, teach your children the two cousins of graciousness: respect and manners. Practice these alongside your children and watch them . . . grow.

I am very proud to say that my two sons have learned this art. I often have people who speak to me about their interaction with either of my boys. These people say things like, “Your son is so polite,” or “Your son is so respectful.” I am grateful God blessed my sons with a loving and gracious mother. I know these qualities probably came directly from . . . her. Still, of all the things they have accomplished in their lives, nothing makes me prouder than when I hear about my sons being like . . . Jesus.