One of the great privileges of my life has been visiting orphanages in places like Russia, China, and South Africa. Taking our children to see those little ones who had no parents, no room of their own, no toys or clothes of their own was life changing. Through these many visits, we learned that those who have little are often much more grateful than those of us who have much.

Gratitude is not natural. It is an attitude that must be taught and nurtured. And it is a task more difficult for parents in the West because of our abundance and prosperity.

There is a story in the Bible that is very hard for us to understand. It is the story of the Israelites being punished for ingratitude by wandering in a desert for 40 years. As a parent, I hated it when my children complained about what they had to eat or what they weren’t allowed to wear that everyone else could wear or what they couldn’t have. After all, didn’t they know we were trying to do our best in raising them?

We gave penalties for complaining and had them memorize Bible verses in hopes that they would get the point, but we never were as radical in our discipline as God was with His kids. I might have banished my children to their rooms for 30 minutes for complaining, but to be banished to a desert for 40 years seems a bit over the top!

Why did God make such a big deal about only a bad attitude?

I think because He understood better than we can possibly imagine how an ungrateful heart is really a proud heart, a heart of rebellion to the parent who is providing with love. Because children are born selfish, it is the parent’s job to train their hearts to be grateful. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a worthy one, for a child with a thankful heart is a delight to parents and to others. And I’m quite sure our Father in heaven will be smiling as well, on your child and on you, for a job well done.

Adapted by permission from Growing Together in Gratitude, by Barbara Rainey, FamilyLife Publishing, 2009.