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Your Biggest Obstacle to Gratitude


We have a loud house.

As much as I encourage our three kids to play outside or try to corral them to the basement, it doesn’t matter. They’re still loud.

When we go to friends’ houses or out to eat, there’s no getting around it – we’re a loud family. Sometimes that’s hard for me to handle. It shouldn’t surprise me that we’re loud… My husband is a loud person. And kids are generally, well, loud.

I like order and peace. (What mom doesn’t?) It’s tempting to let my desire for peace and calm compete with the fairly normal throws of kids, fun, and sometimes chaos.

But there’s something else going on. The real challenge isn’t the volume level in our house, it’s dealing with my own expectations. My expectations for a calm & orderly house, with obedient and respectful kids. And if I’m honest, I have a lot of expectations about other things too: my job, my marriage, how I’m fulfilled, how I’m treated, how my friends care about me, what other people think about me.

And it turns out…all of my expectations have me at the center.

These expectations crowd out room for thankfulness in my life. They rob me of any room to turn my heart toward God in gratitude. And unmet expectations quickly breed discontentment and complaining.

Why do I struggle with gratitude?

Because my heart isn’t content with what I’ve been given.

My biggest obstacles to gratitude are my own expectations.

Can you relate?

If we’re not careful, our expectations will turn into entitlement. We’ll believe, “I’m entitled to certain things in my life.” Our hearts will say, “I deserve what I want. I deserve to be happy.”

And then, we’ll start acting out of what we think we deserve… without recognizing all the ways God has already provided!

Thanksgiving is one of the most common themes in scripture. The Bible is full of exhortations to give thanks to God.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good” (Psalm 106, 107, 118, 136). “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20).

How can we be thankful in all circumstances when all we see are unmet expectations?
We need to break our cycles of complaining and discontentment over missed expectations.

 Here are three practical ways I’ve found to help cultivate thankfulness and turn my heart to God:

3 Ways to Grow in Thanksgiving

  1. Turn Your Complaints into Thanks

When I’m tempted to grumble about my circumstances, I need to see it as a reminder to give thanks, instead.

Ephesians 5:19-20 says, “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is a far reality from my tendency to complain and be discontent. But I can ask God to change my heart and be thankful for what I do have. What good things are happening? What gifts have God given me in this moment that I’m taking for granted?

Someday our house will be quiet, and I will miss this season of life. I’ll mourn the loud days and wish that we had a bustling home. For now, in these moments, I can reorient my heart to thank God for my loud house and my energetic children. I can turn my impatience and frustration into thankfulness because their noise (and their joy!) is a gift.

  1. Fake It ‘til You Make It

I used to think this idea was all wrong. It sounds so inauthentic! But sometimes, you have to go through the motions in order to grow.

Thanksgiving is a discipline that takes practice. Unfortunately, gratitude doesn’t always come naturally. Just like any habit you build, you need to repeat it regularly and intentionally before it will spring forth naturally.

Our culture has cheapened thanksgiving into mantras and routines, but godly thanksgiving is not a health benefit, a perspective, or a wellness regimen. The end goal of thanksgiving is not to feel better about ourselves. So, whether we feel thankful doesn’t have to stop us from actively giving thanks.

Thanksgiving is a heart posture. We make it a regular part of life by changing how we see God: as the giver of everything in our lives (James 1:17). He is the author; the one who orchestrates our story and gives us all we have. God is good, and his goodness is for everyone. We would be remiss to neglect the habitual practice of thanksgiving in our lives to God.

As I intentionally give thanks in more areas of my life, I begin to see more and more how God is at work and my heart is more inclined to thank him!

  1. Give Everything Back to God

In 1 Samuel, Hannah cries out to the Lord for years, visiting the temple to pray for a child. She makes a vow to God:

“Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
1 Samuel 1:11

Is Hannah bargaining with God? —“Give me a son, and I’ll give him to you”? No! Hannah makes this vow before her prayer is even answered. She understands that God is the giver of all things and offers her request back to him. She asks knowing that whatever he gives is already God’s to begin with.

Isn’t that ultimately what we’re asked to do, too? Everything we have is a gift. Our homes, our families, our jobs, our lives. The best thing we can do is give it back to God with thanksgiving. Give God the glory and honor and praise, for everything we’ve been given!

Once Hannah has a son, she praises God: “My heart rejoices in the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:1).

Thanksgiving is praising God and rejoicing in who he is and what he has done!

You and I are not entitled to anything in life. We must turn our hearts to God in gratitude for all he’s lavished on us and remember to praise him.

After all, you can only truly thank God for what you know comes from him alone. Let’s cultivate thanksgiving by returning to him what he’s given us.


Cultivating gratitude may not come naturally, but it is a habit you can form. Learn about the Prayer of Examen and how it can be your secret guide to gratitude.