Joy

An Experiment in (not) Complaining

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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?

My Sister

Today, I decided that I felt like writing a sappy/sentimental post. I don’t usually write like this and it took at least three false starts. So buckle up. 🙂

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There is someone in my life who I treasure like no one else. She has been with me for longer than I can remember and we have shared some of the most joyful, exciting, painful, and infuriating moments of our lives with one another. When we are separated, it hurts to have no one to laugh over inside jokes with or to listen to me complain for the eight hundredth time about drama at work.

She is my sister.

My sister is a beautiful girl. She is kind and sweet and she puts other people before herself. She always wants her friends to be happy and keeps them from pain if she at all can.

We’ve grown up beside one another, learning and laughing and, occasionally, yelling. We’ve literally “done life” together for the past sixteen years. She knows my ugly side and she loves me anyway. We’ve both changed and become stronger both by ourselves and as a team.

My sister has the voice/hands/ears/heart of a musician. She improves in playing the guitar every day, pouring herself into the music and working through the frustrating chords and strumming patterns. She leads worship by example, devoted to her Lord and happy to sing to Him.

She is also an artist, crafting pictures and coming up with creative gifts for those she loves. She doesn’t paint very often any more, but her journal pages hold more sketches than notes, all of them cute, intricate, weird, or some combination of the three.

In addition to growing up physically these past years, I have seen my sister grow spiritually in ways that make me so proud of her. She devotes part of her morning, first thing, to spending time in the Word and praying. She is one of the first to offer to do things others don’t want to do. She loves spending time with people and getting to know them and showing them the love that she knows so well.

My sister is one of a kind. She dyes her hair blue if she feels like it. She builds forts with little kids out of any spare pillows and blankets found lying around. She crosses her eyes and sticks out her tongue when she thinks I’ve said something ridiculous. She wears BDUs one day and frilly tank tops the next.

I love my sister. I am so blessed to have her – to live in the same room as my best friend. I pray that we will always be so close.

Kira

Who in your life is special to you?
What makes them so dear?

It’s Okay to Enjoy Life

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Did you know that God created this world for His children? If you believe in Him, it was all made specially for you.

I made this discovery whilst putting together a Bible study on the first few verses of 1 Timothy 4. Paul is telling Timothy about false teachers who require “abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:3b, ESV)

By those who believe and know the truth…

Isn’t it incredible to think that all the good things in this world were made especially for us? That God had us in mind when He formed trees and stars and whales?

But, awesome as that is, it’s not my main point for today.

It’s amazing to think that God made all of this for us – but it doesn’t matter if we don’t enjoy it. God created good things with the intention that we would look at them and experience them and think of Him. The next couple verses of 1 Timothy emphasize that.

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

Why would we even think of rejecting the good that God has given us? And yet, we do it without thinking all too often.

How many times are we too busy to take a walk? Or too concerned with fitness to enjoy our run? How often do we pull out our phones to take pictures rather than enjoying the beauty in the moment?

I choose the busyness and pressure of this world far too often. But every time I choose to stop and enjoy the good things God has given me, I am thankful and happy.

A lot of times, it feels like cheating to take a break. How could we waste time looking at the stars when that paper is due next week? And yes, we must do our work. God has given us that as well. But He didn’t intend for us to drown in it. There is no reason to feel guilty for enjoying what we have been given to enjoy. It is healthy and it is good.

God loves us and He has blessed us with so much. Let us receive it with thanksgiving.

Kira

What has God given you to enjoy? What are some things you like to do to enjoy them?