Taking a three-week trip from Texas to Michigan and back again with five children is nothing to sneeze at, especially if one is crazy enough to drive. It was the most ambitious trip we’ve taken to date, and by the end we were all getting on each other’s nerves a bit. Okay, a lot. Especially the last few days in the car, everyone was on edge, complaining about every little thing. When I handed back granola bars for the kids to snack on, they grumbled about which kind they got. When we stopped for dinner, they fought about how many chicken nuggets they received. When it was time for a movie in the car, inevitably one of them was mad at the selection. At one point I was so fed up with the constant whining that I said, “Would it be too much to thank your dad and me for everything we do for you, rather than complaining that it’s not exactly the way you want it? Do you have any idea how spoiled you sound?” But even as I said the words, I was convicted. Because, you see, I’m the same way.
One of the drawbacks of living in a fairly well-to-do society is that we tend to take things for granted. It’s a given that we have running water, electricity, and food on the table every day. Even many people in the lower class still have cars and iPhones. We can run to the store or hop online to order whatever we want, and probably get it within the week. We accumulate so much stuff we don’t know what to do with it all. And still we yearn for more. It’s not enough to have a roof over our heads–our eyes are naturally drawn to the house of a richer neighbor down the street. We may have a closet full of clothes, but we complain that we have “nothing” to wear. Sure, the job is okay, but it would really be great to get that promotion or that raise. Your spouse may be honest and faithful, but perhaps you look with a twinge of envy at the couple in church who seems happier in their relationship. Unfortunately, playing the comparison game leads to something rather dangerous–not only taking one’s blessings for granted, but even complaining about them, basically telling God that they aren’t good enough.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a pattern of negativity or ungratefulness? Take some time to thank God for what He has given you, rather than complain about what He hasn’t. I’ve found that a great place to start is to pray through the meaning of the first article of the Apostles’ Creed to see just how many things God does for me: “Thank You, Lord, for making me and all creatures, for giving me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses. Thank You for giving me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals, and all I have. Thank You for richly and daily providing me with all that I need to support this body and life. Thank You that You defend me against all danger and guard and protect me from all evil, all out of Your divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
That’s an impressive list, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall the last time I thanked God for my sight or the use of my hands, for example. And this isn’t an exclusive list, by any means. In fact, the best gift of all isn’t even mentioned there. The gift of forgiveness that is yours through faith in Jesus is more important than all of those combined, and even if all your earthly blessings were taken away, your salvation is secure.
I may not be able to stop my children from whining, nor can I promise that I won’t whine and complain in the same way. But today I’m going to take time to really pray through that list above, elaborating on each of the items. Matter of fact, I think I’ll invite my children to pray along.