We visited the playground on a stunning autumn morning. After a burst of rainy days, the sun was shining and a breeze was blowing through yellow leaves. It was cool enough for the children to wear sweaters but still warm enough to need a thermos of drinking water—a perfect day. But it wasn’t. The toddler cried because I was nursing the baby instead of pushing him on the swing. The preschooler whined because no one would play with him. I grumbled because they were unhappy.

In a society focused on the gratification of self, it is easy to become entrenched in a feel-good doctrine. We feel entitled to the way we’ve decided things should be, and when tough circumstances come instead, it is our nature to feel offended—to believe we are owed more. Only when we intentionally stop and adopt a spirit of gratitude for all things and all situations do we begin to realize that everything we’ve been handed is a gift.

It is natural to want to please ourselves, but God is calling us to go beyond the natural. From the beginning of time, man has felt the pull to please himself. In the Garden, the serpent told Eve that if she wanted the fruit of the tree, she should eat it. The words of God took second place to Eve’s personal desires, but we are called to die to our fleshly natures. Therefore an attitude of thankfulness must be intentional; it does not happen on its own without careful cultivation.

When I settle the baby for bed and carefully lay her on her mattress just as the toddler squeals and wakes her, my natural instinct is to bite and react. Choosing not to whine or complain begins as an act of my will. Choosing to be thankful for happy children and exuberant giggles will stretch me further. My mind may tell me that the toddler is to blame and that I am owed an easy, quiet evening, but my spirit is urging me to a higher calling—laying down my life and my words to do and say what is pleasing to God. Controlling the tongue and controlling the heart take work.

After months of house hunting, we finally found a home that fit our growing family and was within our budget. We made an offer, which was accepted, and we began to tell our friends and make big plans, but a phone call from our real estate agent a week later revealed that the seller was having second thoughts and was unsure of signing the contract. So sure that this house had been the one God had chosen for us, it was hard to find words of gratitude in this changing plan. Words of complaint were much easier to come by, but when lips are closed to complaining, eyes are drawn upward. Philippians 4:6 says, “In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

In those days of let-down and worry, when I felt tempted to grumble, question, and ask why, I chose instead to whisper a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you, Lord, for the home we have now. Thank you that even though it is small, it keeps my family safe and together. Thank you for the knowledge that my future is in Your hands.” Even though we didn’t understand His purpose, we began to thank Him for His plan and ask Him to continue guiding us. Instead of the bitter taste of negative words and thoughts, I found immediate relief—not a relief that wiped away the pain of disappointment, but a relief that the situation rested in the hands of a loving and giving God.

As you begin to chip away at the habit of complaint and choose instead to be thankful, you begin to revel in the ordinary. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) Sometimes we need to make an effort to look for something to be thankful for. When the bitter words bubble under the surface, pray for gratitude. God offers grace to our human hearts and helps us to see His gifts. With an intentional, thankful heart, eyes can become opened to small blessings: the ruffled morning hair of a toddler, the hum of the washing machine, the scent of soap. When a rainy day leaves the children stir-crazy in the house and leaves you suffocated by their energy, thank the Lord for voices and dry walls. When the baby splashes water all over the bathroom floor . . . again . . . and you want to grumble as you mop puddles off of the bathroom floor you haven’t had time to clean, thank Him for a healthy babe and clean water and a now-clean floor too. If you purpose to radiate gratitude, you find reason to pleasure in all things: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)