Gratitude Over Grumbling

Philippians 2:14 -- Do everything without grumbling or arguing...

Even as I type this in a silent room, I hear my kids say it loudly in my head. We spent  a few weeks in the late winter memorizing this verse and talking through how we could actually apply it. My kiddos are rambunctious and ornery at times but for the most part, they're fairly obedient considering their ages. But often times in their obedience, they were complaining and grumbling about the task before them. I realized I had allowed this, out of laziness really, for far too long and it was time to break the bad habits we'd fostered.

Well in the beautiful and yet painful way God often does, while I was training them, He was training me. The more we stopped our day to recite that verse because they needed reminding, the more God nudged that I too needed reminding.

The conviction came through many avenues and from every angle. Through books I read, through a session at our Women's conference, through Scripture in seemingly everywhere I turned, through practical examples with the kids, through a seminary wives class lecture, through conversations with friends, and through time in prayer, the message was loud and clear. I had not only allowed this bad habit in my children, but worse I had allowed it in myself and for far too long. So long, in fact, that it had become normal practice.

What in the world was I grumbling about you might ask? To be honest, for the most part, things I'm quite embarrassed to say. Upon assessing it wasn't anything monumental or even the strange health issues that seemed to fuel the bulk of this grumbling. My complaining mostly came out of the roles and responsibilities of myself and of my husband. Roles that I'm so so thankful for. Roles that I wouldn't trade tomorrow even if offered. But roles that nonetheless bring responsibilities that sometimes overwhelm me. Still yet, I knew there was a difference in recognizing the hard amidst the joys rather than dwelling on the frustrations. In triumphing in the gifts rather than grumbling about the pains.

The final dagger that pushed me to take some intentional steps was in a chapter about gratitude in the midst of our suffering when Elisabeth Elliot said this: "I think we could divide the world into two classes: the people who make a habit of complaining about what they haven't got or they have got and those who make a habit of saying 'Thank You Lord' for what they haven't got and what they have got." Yikes. Deep down I knew I was a grateful person and often times I expressed that out loud. But those closest to me, and more importantly my God who knows every thought, knew that complaining had certainly become a habit. And it was a habit I desperately desired to break.

Through prayer and conversation and the Word, I decided that the month of May was going to be a reset and I was not going to allow myself to grumble.... not about the weather or a lack of sleep or our crazy calendar or, the big one, my husband's two week mission trip. This didn't mean I couldn't acknowledge something was hard or disappointing but that I couldn't dwell there and in place of my grumbling I was begging God to make me overflow with gratitude.

It was an incredibly humbling and sanctifying month for sure. I began to realize how tempted I was to grumble over the silliest of things. I realized how often I'd been keeping a tally of frustrating moments from my day just to answer "how was your day?" with. It's truly pathetic when I think about how sweet my life is. Honestly, it's embarrassing enough that if I didn't feel certain God was asking me to share this, I'd just keep it all tucked away in my journal. But here's the amazing thing... God answered that prayer and He answered in a deeper way than I could have ever expected.

In the beginning it seemed I was constantly aware of yet another time that I had to swallow my grumbling but, just as most habits go, the more I acknowledged what was frustrating me, prayed about it, and sought something to be grateful for, the more routine that became. By the end of the month I found myself often times being able to skip the steps and immediately jump to gratefulness. I also realized that not every frustration is even worth voicing out loud or worth more than a passing thought in my mind. It's been a humbling journey but a freeing one. And one I know I will likely be on for the rest of my life. Some days took much more intentionality and prayer than others and sometimes I downright failed, but God was always so faithful to remind me of the grace we have any Jesus. That grace reminded me that this wasn't a "strike three and you're out" situation but a "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" (Phil 3:13) situation. I was also so thankful to be joined in the journey by two sweet friends who shared they also desired to grow in the same areas. Among us, we would share verses or songs or thoughts and committed to pray for each other along the way.

Here are a few of the biggest truths I've learned (and am still learning) in the process:

-- Colossians 2:6-7: "So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, being rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude." It's no surprise that the more rooted I was in studying and memorizing Scripture and focusing on who God is and all He's done for me, the more I overflowed with gratitude. It was easier to be rooted in that when I was in routine and had set time in the Word and regular worship with believers. I had to fight for this much more the second half of the month when I was traveling and Joel was away. But even when "rooting" couldn't be as extensive as I desired, I could always find ways to fix my eyes where they needed to be when I made an intentional effort.

-- I realized that I was most tempted to grumble when I felt overwhelmed with the task(s) before me. This forced me to choose to do one (or more) of these three things: (1) Ask someone for help. (2) Ask God to increase my capacity. (3) Acknowledge that He'd already provided what I needed and that I should accept that and proceed thankfully and joyfully. -- Most of the time... I found number 3 to be true. Certainly there were times I needed to ask someone for help, especially when Joel was gone. This is not my favorite thing to do but I realized that if I just go ahead and ask when I start to feel overwhelmed it goes much better than me spiraling and getting frustrated and then trying to kindly ask for help. And there were definitely times that I needed God to increase my capacity and give me patience and perspective. But more often than not, He'd already provided what I needed and I needed to focus on that and move forward. Ruth Chou Simons said this and I found to be incredibly true during this time: "If I trace every complaint about my circumstances back to it's origin, I find that my addiction to productivity, efficiency, and comfort are always at the center of my unhappiness." Yet in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we're told, "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

-- Philippians 4:8: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. " -- Refusing to grumble outwardly pretty quickly diminished my grumbling inwardly. In those moments I knew I could dwell in misery or choose to take every thought captive, pour out my sorrows/disappointments/frustrations in prayer, and remind myself of the truth from His Word. God is good and He loves me. He alone is enough to satisfy my every need. There's nothing more true and just, lovely and excellent to dwell on than Him.

-- "When we rightly understand gratitude, it can have a cascading effect as it nourishes the growth of other virtues." - Mary K Mohler in Growing in Gratitude -- I found (and am still finding) this to be very true. As my gratefulness increases so does my joy and patience and gentleness.

-- Grumbling is contagious... but so is gratitude. I can't even begin to describe how evident this has been in my home. Grumbling feeds grumbling in thought life, our conversations, our attitudes and on and on. The more I grumbled, the more I grumbled. But the same goes for gratitude. Gratitude feeds gratitude. The more grateful we are, the more grateful we'll be. Lord, let it be.

-- There's truly always something to be grateful for. As believers in Jesus Christ, even if we had nothing else to be thankful for, we have the greatest redemption ever to be thankful for. We were "rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son He loves. In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin." (Colossians 1:13-14) I loved this quote from Thomas Watson that says, "If we do not have what we desire, we have more than we deserve."

-- There's a motivation beyond just holiness. While that is a worthy and right motivation, beyond that Philippians 2 tells us that as we restrain from grumbling and arguing we will shine as lights in the world. "Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." Philippians 2:14-15

I am certainly not saying that I never talked about or worked through things that were hard. I don't think pushing struggles away and never processing them in prayer and conversation is healthy mentally or spiritually. I did find though that there's a definite difference in doing that in healthy way verses making complaining and grumbling the accepted tendency. As I think about many of the Psalms, especially David cries out to God in his agony and laments and lays all his disappointments and questions out there. But we always see this cycle of David not staying there but coming back to the truth of who God is and of His steadfast love.

I could tell you story after story where my tendency would have been grumbling but instead God gave me gratefulness. I am praying that He continues this work in me and hopeful that some bad habits have been broken and new habits taken root. This month of intentionality changed so much of my perspective and my guess is that some of you may be reading this desiring a similar shift. If that's the case I'm going to put the specifics of our "Gratitude Over Grumbling Challenge" below so you can tweak it and make it your own.

"You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness that my glory may sing Your praises and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever!" -- Psalm 30:11-12

Gratitude Over Grumbling Challenge Details

  1. One month of no grumbling and instead seeking to be grateful in all circumstances. Obviously we want this to last longer than a month but a solid month of focusing on this seemed to help break some of those bad habits.
  2. Prep - Pick a month. Commit to making yourself a student of gratitude. I dug for Scripture about thankfulness and made notes to refer back to when I needed extra grounding. I also committed to reading a book on gratitude for the month and found that helpful. I read Growing in Gratitude and that was a great read. I also highly suggest Suffering is Never for Nothing or Calm My Anxious Heart. I also made a Gratitude playlist that was on repeat the month of May and found this very helpful to constantly keep my thoughts in check when I was driving or doing dishes or making breakfast.
  3. Accountability - Tell those who are closest to you and especially those you tend to grumble to what you are doing. Ask them to help you remember to look for ways to be thankful instead of grumbling. Chances are that even if they don't ever have to remind you, simply them knowing will help you not jump to old tendencies.
  4. Pray pray pray. I can't reiterate enough that this was a work of the Spirit and not of my flesh. There's no amount of willpower that could have flipped my thought life like that. Pray before you start and at the beginning of each day and every time you're tempted to grumble. I tried to journal prayers of thanksgiving every 2-3 days. This is a habit that I'm keeping on my weekly calendar now that the initial month is over. It's so helpful for me to reflect on the week and see all the things I can be thankful for. Colossians 4:2 says "Devote yourselves to prayer. Stay alert in it with thanksgiving."
  5. Team up. If you have a friend or a spouse who expresses interest in joining you, it will certainly make the journey more enjoyable to be able to share what you're learning and pray for each other.
If you decide to take this on, please let me know! I'd love to join you in prayer!

A few questions I asked when the month was over:
  • When was I most tempted to grumble and how did I combat that?
  • What worked in those times when I overcame grumbling and exchanged it for gratitude?
  • What did I realize needed to change in the times I completely failed?
  • What other benefits did I find by not grumbling and being grateful?
  • What do I want my continued habits to look like going forward?



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