Oct 17, 2014

Your Life Could be Worse

By Ruth Meyer

“I hate doing dishes! Why do you always make me do the chores? It’s not fair!” 
“You’re such a stupid brother! I wish I was an only child!” 
“Am I the only one who ever picks up around here? You guys are such slobs!”

Do you ever hear remarks like these in your house? Do you voice such things yourself? Blame our sinful human nature if you will, but we tend to be really good at focusing on negative things and overlooking positive ones. Grumbling and complaining have become commonplace in my own household, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not above such behavior any more than my kids are. Negative thinking easily becomes a pattern and can turn into our default mode quickly, which is why my household needs some practical tools to help us reorient our mental and emotional habits.

First, let’s look at a few Bible verses. My kids know Philippians 2:14 and Ephesians 4:29 fairly well. I make them quote these whenever they complain about something or insult someone. Philippians 2:14 says “Do everything without complaining or arguing,” and Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Easier said than done, isn’t it? And even though my kids and I know these verses, putting them into practice takes some doing. So I decided to do something more proactive in an effort to put an end to negative talk in our house. It’s not a terribly original title, but we call the policy, “Three Things.”

Here’s how our new system works: every time someone complains or insults someone else, he or she must combat that negative statement with three positive ones. For example, let’s say one son calls the other an idiot. He then has to say three nice things about his brother. This takes some work. Kids aren’t naturally great at giving compliments. Most of the time, the compliments are pretty generic. “You’re nice. You get good grades. You’re a good brother.” Bland, I know. But it’s a chance for me to help them give compliments. “What is it about him that makes him ‘nice?’ What positive trait helps him get good grades? Why do you think he’s a good brother? Be specific.” It’s a work in progress, but it helps. And my hope is that eventually they’ll insult each other less just to avoid having to say three nice things!

As for complaining, if anyone moans about having to do a chore, I make him list three good things about that task (note: this requirement applies to me, too!).

Ugh, do I have to help make dinner again?
   1. We have good food to eat.
   2. We get to eat together as a family at home.
   3. We have a clean (enough) kitchen with working appliances and electricity.

Oh, brother. Does this laundry ever end?
   1. Our family has plenty of clothes to wear.
   2. We have a washing machine and dryer right in our own home.
   3. The older kids can do their own laundry and fold their own clothes now.

Unsurprisingly, the kids have gotten really tired of this new policy, but my hope is that it will make them think twice about voicing unhelpful negativity. I’m trying to retrain their thinking, if you will, and my own in the process. I employ this method even when we have an accident or an unexpected annoyance at home. It’s one way I try to stay sane and and keep things in perspective. When something unfortunate happens, we list three ways it could be worse. The kids love this and have come up with some pretty wild stories. It gets us laughing together instead of yelling at each other and placing blame.

Spilled milk? That’s okay- it could be worse!
   1. The glass could have shattered all over the floor and cut someone’s foot.
   2. It could have spilled on the carpet instead of the linoleum kitchen floor.
   3. It could have oozed under the fridge where we can’t reach it so it would spoil and smell bad and we’d have to move out of the house and end up homeless sitting on the corner of the street begging with a little tin cup…. (like I said, the kids have a blast getting ridiculous with these).

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! The baby has another ear infection?
   1. We can afford medical care.
   2. We can easily obtain the needed antibiotics.
   3. This isn’t something life-threatening. She’ll be over it in no time.

You get the gist.

Of course, this “mental re-training method” is not meant to cover every single negative experience you may encounter in life. If a friend confides in you that her spouse is cheating on her, that’s not the time to add a perky, “Hey, let’s think of three ways this could be worse!” Serious problems need serious help, and sometimes even counseling. Please don’t think I’m trying to make light of such issues. This little policy is for the trivial things we complain about in any given day.

The “Three Things” idea might be helpful for your household, too. If you have young kids at home, beware: they’ll be vigilant about making sure you follow the policy as well! Positive thinking has been shown to affect even one’s physical well-being, so let’s remember the blessings that God gives us-- above all, the free forgiveness and salvation that come from Christ (the only human without an ingratitude problem). Show your kids how to act upon the words of Philippians 2:14 and Ephesians 6:29. You’ll have an opportunity to retrain your own thinking in the process.


Ruth Meyer is living out her vocation as a Lutheran woman in the roles of sister, daughter, mother, and wife. Her greatest joy in life is living as a redeemed child of God, who has blessed her in her many vocations. Besides her human relationships, Ruth's other interests include music and writing. She is a church musician and has a special love for Lutheran hymnody. She also loves to write, and her children's book, Our Faith from A to Z was recently published through CPH. Ruth keeps her own blog at truthnotes.net. Her hope is that through her writing you are encouraged and perhaps even challenged in your God-given vocations.

Title Image: From a still life by Francisco de Zurbarán


  1. While I was reading, I had the feeling you've written the story of my family! Thank you for sharing some interesting solutions, they will really help me at home!

  2. Mental retraining is so important! Our sinful nature makes it easy to overlook God's ridiculously great blessings.


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