Change

An Experiment in (not) Complaining

adult-autumn-autumnal-712413

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a conversation which you absolutely hated, only to discover that it was due to the other party’s constant whining about their circumstances?

Have you ever been in a decent mood and dragged yourself downward by dwelling on all the things going wrong – or at least not going right?

Have you ever heard those dreaded words from the back of a car: “Are we there yet?”

Then you, my friend, have had experience with complaining.

I realized recently just how much I complain about my life and circumstances. I slip easily into a negative mindset and just as easily let those thoughts slip out of my mouth. It effects not only my mood and actions, but those of others as well, and, as a child of God, that is not something I should be allowing to happen.

This realization hit me about a month ago, and, as soon as it did, I began to notice every time I complained to myself or someone else. I often didn’t make it through an hour without some negative thought passing through my head or out of my lips. There were a few key times in which I especially noticed this unpleasant tendancy of mine, including when I got home from work, when I felt tired and unmotivated, and when other people’s actions interfered with what I wanted.

I decided that I would spend the next month doing my best not to complain and seeing how it effected me. This time included three weeks of counseling at camps, a few very long days (and one night) at work, and the gloriously high temperatures of late summer in Virginia. Here’s what I learned.

I can’t do it.

Right from the beginning, it became apparent that I was not able to keep myself from complaining by my own strength. Duh. But it was still something that I had to learn and remind myself of over and over again. Once I had that figured out, there was a lot more prayer involved in my quest to keep myself from the sin of complaining.

I really can change my own mood.

Remember when you were a kid and really angry about something and your mom would tell you to just decide to be happy and you could turn yourself around? Just me? Okay.

Anyway, the last month has shown me that my mother actually knew what she was talking about. Who would’ve guessed? There are still lovely things like hormones and bad circumstances to be dealt with, but choosing to keep a positive attitude about things really does make a difference. Sometimes, I would catch myself talking about how awful things were at work one day and realize it was putting me in a downright bad mood. When I changed my thoughts to what was good about the situation (I have a job, some of my coworkers are really great, etc.) or to something else entirely (what to blog about when I got home, how great this morning’s run was, etc.) my mood instantly began to rise. Even just the action of putting a smile on my face helped a lot.

The people I interact with impact my actions.

There’s a saying that goes something like this: Show me a man’s five closest friends and I’ll show you his future. And that is true. When I’m around people who complain themselves, I am much faster to complain. When I’m with cheerful people, I’m quicker to be positive. Choose your friends wisely, for you will become more like them, whether you want to be or not.

There are other things to talk about.

I never realized how many of my conversations consisted of 1) complaining or 2) gossip. Since I included gossip in the category of “negative thoughts”, that had to go as well. And as it turns out, there are other things to talk about.

The world is full of interesting and good things to talk and think about – we need not dwell on the things that upset us.

Complaining is a form of pride.

How often do you complain for someone else’s benefit? If you’re anything like me, it’s not very often. Complaining is all about me, myself, and I. It is all about what I can get out of life and what will make me happy – not what I can do to please God or serve others. It puts all of our focus on ourselves, which is not how God would have us live our lives as His children.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity (giving the picture of a truly humble man): “Probably all you will think about him  is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him…He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

I complain a lot. Still.

The past month has not cured me of my desire to complain (or my all-too-frequent fulfillment of that desire, as my family can tell you). I am still working on this discipline, and I probably will be for a while. Thankfully, when I get discouraged, I can return to the first point: I can’t do it on my own.

I’ve learned a lot from just the realization of how much I complain in a day, and I am grateful for the conviction, painful as it may be at times. I hope that my experiment in complaining will cause you to examine your own life and thoughts and will lead you to a more God-focused, self-forgetful way of being. Because that is what we are made to do.

Kira

What helps you keep yourself from complaining?
Are there any places/circumstances that trigger complaint?

From the Archives: Devotions and To-Do Lists

This is a post that I cannot leave behind. It’s still something I have to work through over and over again.

For a different angle on the same subject, you can read this post. A friend of mine wrote it around the same time I wrote mine (the same day, I believe) with no collusion whatsoever. And even though we appear to be of opposite opinion, I entirely agree with what he says.

Originally published: 6/16/17


“Devotions aren’t something to mark off a to-do list.”

I can’t remember when I first heard that, but it’s stuck with me for a long time. The intended meaning is that you shouldn’t rush through devotions to get through the next thing, but should rather spend time on it and put in effort.

What made it into my head though was the literal meaning. I’ve had the subconscious thought for a long time that if I write down the word “devotions” on a to-do list, it doesn’t count. If I actually do them and mark it off, it’s even worse.

For the past few days, I haven’t wanted to read my Bible and so I just didn’t. I of course felt guilty about it and, one day, wrote devotions on my to-do list. I tried to ignore the nagging feeling that it was wrong and told myself that it was the only way that I was actually going to do devotions that day.

That’s when I realized that the guilt I felt is ridiculous.

The idea behind saying devotions aren’t for a to-do list is a good one. We, as believers, need to invest in our relationships with God just like we would other people. We need to spend time in His Word and in prayer on a daily basis in a deeper way than we would spend time on the dishes. The Psalmist tells us that the righteous man spends a lot of time in the Bible.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:2

But sometimes we just don’t want to. We’re busy or in a bad mood or don’t feel like it or any number of other things. It’s so easy to just shrug our shoulders and miss it for one more day.

It’s only this last school year that I’ve been able to make a consistent habit of doing devotions. The key word there is “habit.” Habits take effort to form. If you wanted to form the habit of running, you’d have to make yourself run regularly, even when you didn’t want to. Day after day, you’d lace up your shoes to log some miles.

Devotions require the exact same thing. It’s not different because it relates to God. It should be a normal part of our lives and we have to work to make it that way. Sometimes running makes it onto the to-do list and sometimes it is enjoyed.

The long term benefits come from investing when it’s hard and when it’s not. If you want to run a marathon, you have to do those long runs that make you want to die. But they make race day easier. If you want to be grounded in God’s Word, you have to spend time in it when there are a million things you’d rather be doing.

So go ahead. Write devotions on your to-do list if that’s what it takes to get it done. Enjoying it is a benefit that comes with time. Even now, when I generally like doing my devotions in the morning, there are still days that I dread the time and have to make myself do it.

The rewards will come, but the foundation must be laid.

Kira

Do you have the joy that comes from just spending time with God? What are you doing to encourage that joy?

Commitment to Christ

child-945422_1920

What are some things that you have committed to? I’ve committed to be part of a ministry, turn in my assignments for class on time, and show up for work when I’m scheduled.

I’m also committed to follow God, which is bigger than all of my other committments combined.

Have you ever thought about that – that being a Christian is a committment? Giving your life to Christ is just that – handing over your entire life. That’s sacrifice.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:37-39

Christianity is a huge committment. But what about the little things? It sounds nice to be willing to give your life as a martyr or suffer persecution for your faith, but there’s not as much glory in reading your Bible every morning or forgiving your brother for seventeenth time this week.

We may be willing to do huge things for God, but we have to be faithful in the small things first. How can we witness to the world when we don’t consistently love our family? How can we suffer for our faith if we don’t have enough to turn to God first every day?

That’s what I’ve been convicted of lately. When God shows me how He wants me to change, how He’s going to sanctify me, I need to be committed to that. Otherwise, there’s no point to any of this. So I leave you with a question to wrestle with daily. Are you committed?

Kira

What are some of your commitments? Is there anything that you commit to more than you commit to following God?

Change Your Life

knit-869221_1920

Have you ever looked at your life and wanted to change things? Maybe you want to read more books, eat healthier, or memorize some verses. Antyhing, really.

Those things often seem crazily out of reach at first glance, but they’re usually not. All it takes is some commitment and care.

Decide what to change.

The first thing you must do is decide what you want to change, of course. For our example, let’s take memorizing verses. You decide that you want to know more of the Bible by heart. You know the benefits and you are determined that it will make a serious difference in your life long term to know God’s Word.

Set a goal.

Once you know the broad area that you want to change, it’s time to narrow your focus a bit. When setting a goal, a lot of people like to follow the SMART acronym. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. In my experience, that pretty much covers all the bases you need to get started.

A goal needs to be something tangible – you should be able to picture yourself meeting it. In memorizing verses, maybe that looks like picking a New Testament epistle to memorize.

Your goal should not be impossible to reach, but it should look a bit hard. It’s going to be hard – that’s why you want to change.

Make a plan.

Making a plan to achieve your goal can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I have noticed that simple plans that don’t take a lot of time end up making the biggest difference in my life. Something that takes an hour a day isn’t as likely to happen right off the bat. You can work up to it, though, by starting with a few minutes a day and increasing over time.

In memorizing a book of the Bible, that could mean one verse a day.

Make sure your plan is focused on reaching the goal and that it is something you can measure. If your plan is to eat less junkfood, you need to have a way to measure that so you can tell if you are actually doing it or not.

Get started!

Nothing’s going to change until you get going. The first verse you memorize might not be easy, but I bet the twentieth won’t be as hard. Through repitition and forming the habit of doing something, you retrain your brain and body to make them easier. A year into waking up at 5:30 it feels natural, as opposed to the first week. Or month.

So pick something out and get started. Figure out what kind of goal and plan works for you and make those changes. Take it slow, and the results will astound you. A book is made up of thousands of single words. A house is built of single bricks. A dress is made of single stitches. Tiny steps make a big difference.

Kira

What’s something you want to change? What is one little thing you will do to make that happen?