Some years ago at a MOPS meeting, I heard a tremendous word of wisdom. The speaker suggested that moms instruct their children not to whine and complain “because whining is criticizing God’s provision.”

Whoa.

She’s absolutely right.

If someone gets a bigger slice of cake than me, and I complain about it, I am criticizing the giver of cake, who is ultimately God. (Especially in a world where people are dying of starvation.) If I only get ten presents on Christmas morning and the kid down the street got twenty and I complain about it, I am criticizing God’s provision of more gifts than most children will ever see.

If someone gets a car on their 16th birthday and I don’t, and I whine about it, I am criticizing the fact that God put me in a family that either cannot, or chooses not to (or both), give me what it seems everybody else gets. If my parents buy me a used car and I complain that I deserve a new one, I am criticizing God’s provision of a car in the first place.

Repeating over and over as necessary, “We do not whine and complain because it is criticizing God’s provision” might help restrain some of ugly fruit of the “it’s all about meeeeee!” mindset. But is there a way to teach children not to criticize God’s provision in the first place?

I think so. Modeling an attitude of gratitude, and teaching our children to be aware of what they have to be thankful for and then giving thanks verbally, goes a long way toward preventing a critical spirit. As someone has said, you can’t be bitter and thankful at the same time. I think it’s also true that you can’t cultivate the habit of thankfulness and indulge in continual whining and complaining at the same time.

Parents can ask at dinner, “So what are you thankful for today?” When every family member shares at least one thing that they are thankful for, it’s contagious. And it helps everyone else sharpen their awareness of the many things God does and gives us each day for which we should be grateful. Naturally, this may be a major direction shift for some children (and their parents!) that requires some help in noticing His many gifts. Here’s a powerful question from another MOPS speaker that still shapes my own “thankfulness exercises”: What would you really miss tomorrow if you failed to give thanks for it today? Wow, my list is so long! Indoor toilets, 24/7 electricity, clean water to drink, my bones, my sight, my hearing, my memory, my home, the furniture in my home. . . you get the picture.

Another wonderful discipline is to keep a gratitude journal. At some point in the day, before going to bed, write down three things from that day for which you are thankful. In fact, can you imagine what a gift it would be to keep a daily gratitude journal about your child for a month or more, and then give him or her the journal?

I know we live in a plugged-in world, especially if you’re under 30, but here’s a great mental exercise in thankfulness. Pull out the earbuds, turn off whatever electronic doo-dads are going, and just look around. Start giving thanks for what you see and experience. “Thank You for my iPhone. Thank You for eyes to see what’s on it and ears to hear my music. Thank You for earbuds. Thank You that I’m in a car and I don’t have to walk everywhere. Thank You for paved roads so our ride isn’t bumpy. Thank You for the color of blue in the sky. Thank You that right now, my body doesn’t hurt. Thank You that my stomach is not clamoring for food because I’ve had several opportunities to eat today. Thank You that everyone around me speaks the same language and I don’t have to wonder what’s going on. . . .”

We don’t have to whine and complain. We don’t have to criticize God’s provision (and every little thing that doesn’t please us). We can teach ourselves and our children the excellent habit of being thankful, of cultivating a grateful heart.

And watch what happens.

Sue Bohlin loves teaching women and laughing, and if those two can be combined, all the better. She is a frequent speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women’s Connections) on the topic “How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can’t Change,” based on her lifelong experience as a polio survivor. She also is a speaker/writer for Probe Ministries, a Christian organization that helps people to think biblically. She is also the “webmistress” for Probe.org’s 1200+ articles and answers to email (many of which she wrote). This means she’s a computer geek and she refuses to apologize for it.  Sue serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered organization that helps people struggling with unwanted homosexuality and the family members of those with same-sex attractions. From her years of studying this issue and ministering to those dealing with this issue, she speaks frequently on “Raising Gender Healthy Kids,” and is writing a book about this topic. 


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