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Last week our family gathered around the dinner table and admired the hot, steaming food piled high in front of us. This year, before digging in to the delicious feast, we went around the table and shared one thing we have been thankful for this year. It was sweet to hear our five year old share she is thankful for God and her family, our three year old share he is thankful for time this summer he spent with Nana, and our two year old share she is thankful for her best friend. We prayed for our dinner, and had barely finished saying “Amen” when my two year old daughter looked at me and kindly said: “Can I have some candy and pie?”. I told her that she could have candy and pie once she finished her dinner. She replied with a “hmph,” folded her arms, cast down her head, and stuck out her tiny bottom lip in a frown.

I couldn’t believe it. It had taken only seconds for her to go from being thankful to grumbling. Yet I know I’m often not much different than my toddler. I know my own heart is often quick to thank God with my lips and shortly after being grumbling in discontent. Even the Israelites, only three days after God split the sea to deliver them from the Egyptians, began grumbling and complaining that they had no food and water. Our hearts, no matter the age we are or the century we live in, are quick to grumble and turn from God.

As a mother, I am called not only to cultivate thanksgiving in my own heart, but in the hearts of my children as well:

“Train up a child in the way he should go,
even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Proverbs 22:6

“Rejoice always;
pray without ceasing;
in everything give thanks;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

The Growth Chart of Grumbling

Discontentment in our little ones is not something that happens spontaneously. Like every sin, it grows over time. My youngest child just turned seven months, and in many ways is still just a baby! Yet, when I watch her closely, I can already see a change happening from fussing being a primary way for her to communicate, to fussing because she is wanting to complain. She is still a baby, but I have learned that even baby behaviors like arching the back during a diaper change, resisting being put in a car seat, and screaming for no reason often stem from a tiny, yet growing, seed of discontentment.

A newborn grows to a seven month old who grows into a young toddler. Young toddlers show their discontent hearts when they pout when mom says no, throw tantrums, or simply choose not to do what mom has clearly asked. Even something as simple as a constant cry for mommy is a lack of gratitude for the other loving people God has put in their life. A pouty lip is a grumble against God.

A young toddler grows into a young child. Young children show their discontent hearts when they are slow to do something they have been asked to do, quietly sulk and hide when they don’t get their way, or subtly manipulate siblings to get their way.

“But these are all normal behaviors!”
“It is normal for a baby to scream and arch their back!”
“It is normal for a two year old to pout and throw tantrums…it’s the terrible two’s!”
“It is normal for a five year old to sulk and manipulate…they are learning to regulate their emotions!”

Of course all of these behaviors are normal.
We all have sinful hearts, regardless of our age.
We all are prone to grumble against God.

How quick I can be to tolerate and normalize my children’s grumbling and discontentment. I often would rather think of it as a normal phase than as a sin that will continue to grow. Often, I would rather give in to my toddler (or pretend I didn’t hear that little groan response to my “no”) than take the time and energy to teach them to honor God. But when I do this, I am tolerating and thinking lightly of sin, and giving nourishment to the growing discontentment in their hearts.

When out and about, I’m often just thankful that my toddlers don’t throw themselves on the floor in tantrums or scream at their teachers like those other kids. I think I’m so thankful my kids aren’t like those kids complaining at the zoo and refusing to walk with mom. But when I allow my little ones to pout when I tell them “no,” sulk off when they don’t get their way, or arch their back and scream when being loaded into a car seat, I am allowing their discontentment to grow.

We all know how discontentment, left unchecked, manifests over time. It gives way to more and more complaining, negativity, anxiety, unthankfulness, and tantrums (adults throw tantrums too…we just make it look more respectable than throwing ourselves on the floor!). I want my children (and myself!) to have hearts that love God and are thankful for all of the many blessings He has given us. Praise God that He alone can and does change our hearts to be filled with thanksgiving and gratitude!

 

Cultivating Grateful Hearts

How are you fighting discontentment in the lives of your children?
This November, I have realized how important it is for me to fight my own grumbling and to be an example to them of how to fight discontentment!
When I see one of my little ones beginning to pout and grumble, I help them fight it. I kneel down, encourage them to have a thankful heart, and help them to smile (tickling often helps accomplish that!).
When I see a pouty lip, I don’t ignore it.
When I hear a groan, I don’t pretend I didn’t hear it.
I show them my own gratitude by thanking them and tell them how thankful I am for them. I share with them stories of how God has provided so many good things for our family. Throughout the month of November, we have focused on what the Bible says about thanksgiving and praise.

Grumbling hearts try to steal God’s glory by leading us to forget His goodness. Discontentment walks us down the path of anxiety, fear, and worry as we wonder if God will meet our needs. God has given us so many things to be thankful for! May we be women who do not let grumbling and discontentment steal joy in the lives of our families.

In love,
Jackie