When our children were in elementary school, they began to drag down to breakfast with sour faces, complained at scrambled instead of fried eggs, and whined they didn’t get the biggest cookie in their lunches.
They wanted striped shirts, not plain ones, and plain socks, not striped ones. They didn’t want to take the dog outside (the one they’d begged for and promised to take care of), and the toys were much too big a mess to clean up.
I prayed about what to do.
When the rescued people of Israel complained in the desert about manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, and manna for dinner, God was angry and sent them poultry to eat–so much poultry it piled up and spoiled, causing people to sicken and die.
If God considered complaining so serious an offense, I needed to take notice and teach my kids to be thankful for what they had and to do their work without complaint.
Then I came across Psalm 142:1-2, which says: “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before Him my complaint; before Him I tell my trouble.”
So then, there were at least two kinds of complaint to consider—the legitimate need to share feelings and the self-centered whine. I had been working hard on the first–practicing the art of looking in my childrens’ faces and really listening to them.
A Grumble Box can be made from anything. It can be a cardboard box with a colorful design and a slot cut in the top, or a decorated spice can. I wrote a little ditty for ours and taped it to the top of the box. It read like this:
When gratitude doth tumble and resulteth in a grumble, please deposit thou a coin, thy mouth for to humble.
“What’s this?” the kids asked when they came in the kitchen.
“This is the Grumble Box,” I said. “We all need to be more thankful and complain less. When you whine about doing chores or taking care of the dog or whatever, you’ll have to put a coin in the box.”
“What kind of coin?”
“It might be a penny, a nickel, a dime, or a quarter depending on the whine.”
“What about you?”
This took me aback. “Um,” I said, “yes, of course–me too. If I grumble I’ve got to pay.”
“We’ll give it to kids who need it. We’ll put it in the globe bank for Children of the Nations.”
Children of the Nations is a non-profit that provides food, homes, schools and medical care to children whose lives have been ravaged by war, poverty, disease, and death in the Dominican Republic and several African countries. For more info see www.cotni.org
“But Mom,” one argued, “we’re just going to sleep in them again tonight!”
“Oh dear,” I’d say. “Grab a penny for the Grumble Box.”
“What? ” they’d holler. “All I said was…”
“Oh my—I guess you’d better make it a nickel.”
“You drive a hard bargain–how about a quarter?”
The Grumble Box proved to be the reminder we all needed to complain less. It became a light-hearted way to remember to think before we spoke, retrain our mouths, and practice self-control.
We also learned to be more thankful for what we had.
Every time we emptied the box into the bank and took the bank to Children of the Nations, we looked outside ourselves to see some hungry child get a full belly, or go to school for the first time, or find a place to belong in one of the small family-style orphanages.
And that was the best lesson of all.