Friday, May 30, 2008

The Folly of Complaining

"I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed." (Psl. 77:3b)

This is only one of the unfortunate results of complaining: it leads to the breakdown of our own spirit. It is a vicious cycle. Not only is it irritating to those around us, it ends up reinforcing its own legitimacy in our minds, feeding on itself. And we can be sure; it is one thing God has little patience with. The children of Israel were notorious complainers, and in Numbers 11 we are told that it “displeased the Lord...and his anger was kindled...” When Jude makes his indictment against “ungodly men,” who walk “after their own lusts,” among their many reprehensible offenses, he describes them as being “murmurers and complainers.”

Sad to say, this unpleasant trait is often associated (rightly or wrongly) with the feminine gender. Be that as it may, one thing is sure: it is certainly not characteristic of a lady, much less a woman of God. Complainers are hard to live with, which makes them poor marriage partners. And, sadly, children of such people tend to pick up their bad habits.

Like any bad habit, grumbling is not easily overcome. Once you begin to indulge, as I have said, it becomes hard to break the cycle. If you read the rest of the Psalm, you will find the Psalmist seeks to rid himself of its blight by communing with his own heart (v.6), considering the days of old (v.5), and remembering the works of the Lord (v.11). In other words, he is telling us to take ourselves by the nape of the neck, stop complaining, and start counting...our blessings, that is. If we could see ourselves as we are: complainers against God Almighty, the One who allows the source of our complaints, in the first place, perhaps we would not take them as lightly as we do. Complaining does not make me—or God—look good.

Here is a little verse along the same lines that I have always liked. It may not present a theological dictum, but it sure is a practical, no-nonsense solution!

Build yourself a strong box,
Fashion each part with care;
When it’s strong as your hand can make it,
Put all your troubles there;
Hide there all thought of your failures
And each bitter cup you *quaff;
Lock all your heartaches within it,
Then sit on the lid and laugh.

Bertha Adams Backus

* to drink deeply

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