By now all the turkey leftovers have been consumed, family gatherings are but memories and in just a few weeks, winter will set in upon us and many of us, who simply endure winter will begin longing for the first hints of spring and praying for a mild winter. By now the harvest displays at the fronts of country churches have been taken down and those same congregations will be busy planning for the Sunday School Christmas program. By now, memories of summer vacations have given way to the humdrum of another long season of school or work. By now, normal has set back in and our next break from normal is the end of December, 9 long weeks away.
By now…by now…by now the thankfulness that the holiday of Thanksgiving pushes to the surface of our minds, has submerged beneath the normal, everyday, hassles of life. By now we may feel little gratitude, by now gratitude certainly isn’t the first thing that comes to most of our minds when we brush the cobwebs of a too short nights sleep from our eyes and launch out into another day. By now grumpiness may be more our disposition than gratitude.
I find it amazing how fast I can move from being grateful to complaint. There is a verse in the little letter that Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in a small Greek village called Philippi. The letter is tight, concise, personal and passionate. In chapter 2 in the 14th verse Paul writes something that niggles away at my soul when I give into complaining. It reads, “do everything without complaining…” “Everything without complaining”, now that’s a tall order!
Let’s see, what do we complain about? Just about everything. We complain about the weather. We complain about the government. We complain about the lousy shows on TV. We complain about the price of gasoline. We complain about the kids, our spouses, the in-laws. We complain about it not snowing soon enough or about it snowing too soon. We complain that the pastor’s sermons are too boring or not meaty enough. We complain that we had to sit for 4 hours in the ER waiting to see the doctor and we complain that the fruit in the produce department at the store wasn’t very good this week. We complain about the performance of the Blue Bombers and the Winnipeg Jets. You would think that complaining brought the deepest of joy, given the amount of and the variety of issues that we find to complain about.
In short, if you open your ears and take note, people complain about everything. Now Paul was addressing God’s people, Christian folk, who you would think would have this gratitude thing down pat. Maybe you haven’t been in church lately. In every congregation there seem to be complainers that have made it an art form. If you are the pastor or a leader, you know who they are. They are likely to approach you or call or email or now-a-days text you and they may say something like this, “I don’t want to complain BUT…”
I hear my share of complaints at work. Patients complain about their aches and pains (these I find easy to overlook). Staff members complain about everything from the prices in the hospital cafeteria, to Manitoba Health’s decision to amalgamate the RHAs. Complaining seems to be epidemic, no matter where you go, if you stop and listen to the random conversations happening all around you it will not take very long at all before you hear a complaint. So how can we make any sense out of this straight forward prohibition, “do everything without complaining”?
When I was younger, I was under the impression that God gave us all these rule to live by to make us miserable, to suck all the fun out of life. Now there were reasons for my coming to this conclusion. Many of the “really spiritual” people that I rubbed shoulders with wore long faces like badges of honor, as proof of their piety. So it was very easy to get the impression that God was in the business of sucking every once of joy out of life. I’ve since learned that what I saw was a terrible and unfortunate perversion. God gives us these commands to enrich our lives and lead us into joy.
Have you ever seen a person smiling and full of joy as they complained about something they were dissatisfied or unhappy about. I know what you’re thinking, “Don’t be absurd.” Complaining and joy are polar opposites. Complaining leads to bitterness, gratitude leads to joy. Let’s look at how that works. Both complaining and gratitude are choices. They begin in our hearts and minds, we make an observation then chose how we will respond to what we observe. Let’s take wait times for medical tests as an example.
Two people have had MRIs ordered to help diagnose a problem they are having with their shoulder. The Doctor tells each that they can expect to wait 3 months before they get a call letting them know that they have been scheduled for the MRI. The observation they both make is that it takes a while to get an MRI in Manitoba. One decides that this is ridiculous and begins to grouse about it to everyone: they guys at work, at the dinner table, to friends at social affairs. For three months he grumbles and complains and he becomes miserable and the misery stems not from the injury that requires investigation using and MRI, but his choice to complains about the wait.
The other fellow reflects on the three months, he is aware that 90% of the people in the world would not even have the opportunity to have their injury assessed using an MRI. He also, having family in the States, realizes that it is quite a privilege to be able to have access to a MRI and not have to worry about the cost. He chooses to be grateful for the privilege of living in Canada where an MRI is available and where it will not cost him out of pocket. The three months pass, he has the MRI, his problems is assessed and he has the surgery he needs and he is grateful for everything that has been done to get him back at work and have the use of his shoulder once again.
The complainer spends three months growing more and more bitter about the wait and complaining more vehemently all the time. The man who chose gratitude remains happy and appreciative of the blessings he enjoys. He enjoys the company of family and friends and makes the best of the time off work catching up on some reading and enjoying a slower pace until his recovery is complete.
Apply the same focus to any thing that may give you excuse to complain and ask yourself the question, who do you want to be? I have decided to take this command, “do everything without complaining” to heart. Oh, it is not that I don’t feel like complaining many times. And I don’t always exercise mastery over myself, because if you listen closely, you will still hear me complain from time to time. But many times I find myself thinking about the choice between complaining and gratitude and when I chose gratitude, I am a much happier man, and when I am a happier person, I think the people around me are a bit happier too.
God asks us to give up complaining, not to make us miserable, but to bring us joy. He asks us to forgo bitterness for gratitude for he knows our lives will be so much better with the one above the other. In truth the opposite of what I thought when I was younger is true. Every one of God’s commands has been given to us not to bleed the fun out of life, but to protect us from the harm that comes when we chose our way over His.
Are you up to a challenge? Why not try an experiment. Some evenings soon, ask someone to listen carefully to you the next day and put a check on a piece of paper under one of two columns: Complaining or Grateful. Then to give you back the paper without comment. I wonder which column will have the most checks? If you give it a try have any good insights, I’d love to hear about them.
“The comments expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Southern Health/Santé-Sud Regional Health Authority or the Directors”.