To be contentious is to cause or be likely to cause a heated argument. Sound familiar? All of us have probably felt like that at one time or another.
Like a heavy, wet, blanketing fog, it comes rolling in: the feeling of being underappreciated. I’m not just talking about PMS or menopausal mood swings. I’m talking about actually feeling like no one cares or appreciates you or anything you do.
One minute you’re standing at the sink, feeling pretty good because you just finished cleaning the kitchen. The dishwasher is running, the counter tops are wiped clean, the floors are swept, and you can finally go and have a much-needed break. Then, suddenly, there is an arm sneaking past you to put a dirty dish in the sink. There is no “thank you” for doing the dishes, no pat of encouragement on the shoulder. That’s when it sets in.
It Happens Fast
Suddenly, you begin mentally reviewing all of the things you’ve worked so hard on throughout the day. “If only they knew what a struggle it was to keep the house clean and everyone fed and alive.”
You think of how your husband always comes home, pulls off his shoes and leaves them lying around. Then the kids come inside with mud on their shoes, forgetting to take them off before traipsing on the freshly mopped floor. No one seems to notice how hard you work. You feel tempted to never clean the house or cook another meal again—maybe then they will notice. When your husband gets home he better watch out, because he just might get a piece of your mind. Actually, when he walks in the door and sees your stormy face, he just might rather be on the roof of the house than be around you!
That one small action of putting a dirty dish in the sink took you from happy relief all the way to “crazy town.”
Of course, it is nice to be appreciated, and we tend to feel “over the moon” when someone sincerely thanks us for doing something for them. But we can’t expect our husbands and children to live with a constant focus on expressing an “attitude of gratitude” toward us. So how do we overcome this feeling of being underappreciated and replace it with something less contentious?
What Do I Deserve?
That sense of not being appreciated probably means that you feel that you are deserving of more praise and gratitude. It can also mean that you are valuing yourself and your own feelings over others and their feelings. Regrettably, it’s pretty natural.
There is an infamous and extreme example of this in Ezekiel 28: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty…. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you’” (vv. 12, 15).
Lucifer was a perfectly beautiful angel at God’s throne—until he began to think that he deserved to be God and that he should be more than he was. Most people would like to believe that they are deserving only of good things, but is that the right way to think, as women in the Church of God? Aren’t we still human? Don’t we still have human nature? What do we deserve?
The book of Romans holds the answer, when we read there that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that we don’t know “how to perform what is good [on our own]” (Romans 7:18). Then Paul asks a telling question: “O wretched man [or woman!] that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (v. 24).
Suddenly, all of those puffed-up thoughts of not getting all of the good things I “deserve” go flat when compared to what my sins have earned. The only thing we deserve is death, but through the grace of God in Christ, we can repent and have a much brighter future!
In November 2008, “positive psychology” researcher Barbara Fredrickson and others published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concerning her “broaden-and-build” approach to focusing on positive emotions. According to the abstract,
[the approach] asserts that people’s daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. The authors tested this build hypothesis in a field experiment with working adults… half of whom were randomly assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms).
In short, that study found that good thoughts, actively cultivated, produce positive results. In contrast, experience teaches us that negative thoughts produce emotions that narrow your mind and focus you on the bad. We all know how hard it is to get out of the “negative thought” ditch. You have to make the effort to climb out by praying for God to give you a good attitude. We have to actively choose to think positively in situations when all we want to do is to grumble. If you have known someone who constantly complains about everything and lives in a state of misery, you know that it can be a real challenge to spend time around someone who is so negative. How contrary to the spirit Paul exhorted Timothy (and all of us) to have: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Mr. Richard Ames once mentioned in a sermon that he knew of a lady who kept a journal in which, every day, she wrote five things for which she could be thankful. Recently, I decided to make this a habit, and I can report that it has made a big difference in my mindset. Usually, the first thing that comes to mind is an overwhelming feeling of being grateful to God for choosing someone like me to be one of His people and, eventually, a servant in His Kingdom. Then I realize how many blessings God has given my family just in that day. This is soon followed by appreciating something that someone in the family did or is doing for me that I usually would not notice.
Put Others First
You have to admit that you aren’t the only one who works hard to keep the family functioning smoothly. So why not first show appreciation for the things others do for you? Being thankful to others produces good fruit and creates in you a grateful heart. Chances are that the recipients of your appreciation will be likely to do more than what is required of them in the future. An overall approach of gratitude towards others will also increase a positive and peaceful atmosphere at home. Who can’t use more peace of mind at home?
Why not throw up the white flag, and tell your husband he can come down from the rooftop? Let him know that, instead of being a constant drip on a rainy day, you have decided to stay positive and have an attitude of gratitude. You are on your way to becoming a less contentious woman—a woman after God’s own heart.