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What to Do When I Don’t Feel Grateful

The opposite of grumbling over what we don’t have is gratitude for what we do have. Here are a few tips on how to change course from grumbling to gratitude.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers,” Anne said in L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables.” I’ve never agreed with Anne on this. While I don’t mind autumn itself, to me the season is a harbinger of cold, indifferent winters — a reminder that the season of hibernation is just around the corner. (And Anne apparently never had allergies.)

Just a little grumbling

I read a passage in Philippians last week for a church Bible study. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” Paul wrote, “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.”

I’ve read these verses before, but this time I felt myself questioning them. Really? That’s how we shine as lights — by not grumbling or disputing? It seems so…basic. What about serving God? Loving others?

I know this verse wasn’t intended as an exhaustive list of how to shine for Christ in the world, but Paul’s narrow selection of directives surprised me. Perhaps I don’t fully understand the seriousness of grumbling. Paul reminded the Corinthians that God put to death grumbling Israelites during their trek to the Promised Land. Serious, indeed.

Years ago, John Piper wrote about being convicted over his own grumbling. “Grumbling is an evidence of little faith in the gracious providence of God in all the affairs of our lives,” he said. “And little faith is a dishonor to him. It belittles his sovereignty and wisdom and goodness.”

We may think our grumbling is harmless, one of those “respectable sins” that we acknowledge but often brush aside. But Paul wrote clearly that grumbling is an affront against God himself.

From grumbling to gratitude

Now that we realize the weight of our grumbling, how do we change our habits? The opposite of grumbling over what we don’t have is gratitude for what we do have. Here are a few tips on how to change course from grumbling to gratitude.

Pray. God will give us the strength to be grateful within our circumstances if we ask, but we can also show gratitude by thanking God for what He has already given us and by praising Him for who He is. “Thank the Lord for whatever aspect of this gift you can honestly thank Him for,” Elisabeth Elliot wrote of loneliness, “if not for the thing in itself, then for its transformability, for His sovereignty, His will which allows you to have this gift, His unfailing love, the promise of His presence in deep waters and hot fires, the pattern for good which you know He is at work on.”

Look outward. It’s so easy to get stuck fixating on my list of grumbles. To break out of that cycle, I must look outside of my own problems and requests. Who can I serve? Who can I invite to dinner or meet with at a coffee shop? Who can I text and ask about their own needs?

Make a list of what you’re grateful for. Cliché? Maybe. OK, probably. But this is a tried-and-true method for awakening our gratitude. We forget what we have when we think only about what we don’t. Write down 10 things you’re grateful for right now. You may think you won’t have that long of a list, but I guarantee you will be able to think of 10 things if you spend enough time on it.

Even in a jail cell

Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel when he wrote to the Philippians. Sounds like the perfect place to be ungrateful, especially since it was his obedience to God that got him there.

Paul could have told the Philippians not to grumble because they were better off than he. “Look at all I’m giving up because of my service to Christ,” he could have written. “Just think about my situation whenever you’re tempted to complain.”

But that’s not what he said.

Not only did Paul not grumble, he rejoiced. Even in that first-century jail cell, Paul knew that what God had given him could never be taken away by any Roman guard or emperor. No matter what, Paul remained safe in God’s care, assured of Christ’s constant presence now and Paul’s eternal reward and wholeness later.

What do we have, really, to grumble about?

Just around the corner

There are 64 days until winter, according to a date somebody picked and put on the calendar. But simply stepping outside shows that nature is transitioning out of summer vibrancy to a kind of dormancy. Even the glorious shades of color on the trees point to a death, a coming bareness. It’s not my favorite season, winter. But even then, God will show me signs of His presence. (Hello, Christmas.)

Copyright 2022 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Lauren Dunn
Lauren Dunn

Lauren Dunn is an education reporter for World News Group. She loves stories (especially the good ones), making pizza (usually double pepperoni), and spending time with friends and family. Lauren has lived most of her life in Wichita, Kan., but still regularly gets lost when driving around town.

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