If we are going to kick the habit of complaining and grumbling (or at least subdue it more effectively), we need to look at what is missing in our thoughts and hearts to combat the habit. There is no question it will be hard to break this pesky foe because some of the times we fall prey to it are over small things. They are what Elisabeth Elliott calls “humdudgeons” meaning “a loud complaint over a trifle“. But other things are major difficulties that will not respond to a quick swat by us.
Facing a job loss, a terminal illness, chronic pain, or any number of things will be hard to live with and not express any frustration or angst. I also don’t think God intends we deny the immediate feelings we struggle with when we are dealing with life not going as we would hope, but rather to dig into the reserves within us to discover He has not abandoned us, and we still have things to be grateful for.
One of the things that can open our eyes is to begin writing down the frustrations we cannot deal with. Somehow owning them before God and seeing them poured out on paper takes them from inside of us to look at them more clearly and perhaps even see God moving in the midst. One thing we can sometimes do is compare our challenge or trouble to someone else’s, but that really doesn’t help us address it effectively. We can end up judging ourselves for what we feel instead of laying it out before God and asking for his help to deal with it.
One of the things that feeds this habit that would seek to undo us is not owning the feelings of other times in the past and dealing with them at the point in effective ways. If we fail to do that, they provide a fertile environment for whatever is happening in the present and then be more likely to make even small things seem catastrophic. Facing things as they occur, owning them, and laying them out before God may not change the battle we face but can bring us contentment and peace during the battle as we recognize our Champion is in the battle with and for us.
“When Paul’s flesh was tormented by a sharp thorn, he naturally wanted it removed. He made his request known to God, but the answer was No. God didn’t change Paul’s physical condition, He changed his spiritual one. He gave him what he needed more than healing. He gave him the high ministry of heaven called grace. Paul not only accepted the answer, he learned even to be very thankful for weakness itself, for ‘power comes to its full strength in weakness’.Elisabeth Elliott
It can be easy to respond to that by saying that we aren’t Paul and that is true. But what made Paul the great builder of the Christian church that we see? Have we forgotten who he was initially, what he did and what it must have been like to be struck blind on his way to persecute believers? Have we forgotten that beyond the thorn in the flesh how many trials and assaults and imprisonments Paul faced? If we keep his whole life on the screen before us, we must wonder with respect how much all those things he would have wished never to suffer were the very things that forged his character and the greatness we admire.
The enemy of our souls would seek to create hopelessness within us. If we are to defeat the weight that pulls us downward into grumbling, complaining, and more, we must use a wider-angle lens and add gratitude to the whole of what we see.
Maybe it starts with something simple by taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly and looking around where we are. Don’t just scan, really look. If we pause to do this, we will see things we had missed that we can appreciate and be grateful for. We may notice the sun peeking through the clouds outside our window, the feel of a soft fabric on our skin, the other persons in the scene beyond us and what their expressions tell us about life for them, and even the awareness that if our eyesight allows us to observe all those things there is a reason for gratitude even if nothing changed before we started this exercise. In that moment we will see more of what God wants us to see and notice and often those things will remind us of Him in ways we miss when life is easy, or we are racing through it at a feverish pace.
Sometimes God will show you in a practical way that He is your provision such as when someone ahead of you pays for your coffee or picks up the remainder of the grocery bill that is beyond your means. I had one of those little things happen today when I was going to fill my gas tank. Everything in me was upset that the price was thirty-four cents higher than it had been when I passed the station yesterday. I was far from grateful at that price jump, but as I was putting in my credit card at the pump a message came onto the screen that reminded me, we were reward members of this brand and asked if I would like to take ten cents off a gallon with this fill-up. No question on that one – YES! The other thing I noted was that even though the price was still very high, I sensed the reminder of the Lord’s goodness and provision, and my heart was grateful. His love is always looking for little ways to bless us if our eyes are open to see.
“Love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between. Love has been a penlight in the blackest, bleakest nights. Love has been a wild animal, a poultice, a coat. Love is why we have hope.”Anne Lamott
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)