Pain

An Experiment in (not) Complaining

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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?

God’s Outrageous Generosity

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I wrote my last post in a state of dullness; life wasn’t working and nothing I did seemed to help. All I could do was to keep pushing through, keep doing the things that need to get done in a day: eat, shower, school, work, chores. Go to bed, wake up, repeat.

That feeling isn’t completely gone. It’s beginning to fade, but still here. I’m continuing in my routines, getting things done, and just trying to live through.

But God is gracious. He knows how I’ve been feeling and, while feelings aren’t everything, He did give them to us and He has felt them Himself. On Sunday, He offered some soothing of the struggle – some joy in the midst of the drudgery.

The sermon was on the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 (you can listen to it here). If you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times, like I have. Surely there’s nothing new.

Of course, every time we think that, God is quick to prove us wrong on an epic scale.

The whole sermon was amazing, hitting me with different points and introducing new ways of thinking about the parable that I had never considered before. But it was one verse and one point in particular that has stuck with me and won’t leave my head, through the roughness of life.

And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” -Luke 15:31

The father in the story is talking to a disgruntled older brother about why he celebrates the return of his wayward son. The father represents our Father in Heaven and his words are those of our Lord.

One of the true-est truths (if there can be such a thing) is that of God’s generosity. It is apparent throughout Scripture from the beginning of time all the way through every moment of history up until this very one. He has given us His universe to live in, His food to eat, His Son to be saved by.

Everything God has, He has given to us.

You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours…

However, as our pastor pointed out, this is also one of the first truths that we want to deny to ourselves. “How is this generosity? It’s probably just God trying to toughen me up or ‘sanctify me’ or something. But not generosity.”

Eve believed God was keeping something from her when He said not to eat the fruit. It’s a lie that has crept from generation to generation and one that we must be aware of in order to combat.

The past couple weeks, it is the lie that I have believed. “God’s giving me a rough time right now. He’s withholding the ease and happiness that I want. Maybe I’ll get it one day, but there’s a reason it’s being kept from me for now.” No. God is overwhelmingly generous with me, always sharing all that He has with me.

And when you think about how much He has, that’s a big deal. So, don’t be discouraged. Remember that your Father loves you and has given you all that is His. Because He wants to.

Kira

What are some ways that you can see God’s generosity in your life right now? How do you remember those when you’re suffering?

You Can’t Handle This

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“Just remember, God won’t ever give you anything you can’t handle.”

Those words make me want to shake my head, groan, glare, and sigh. It’s one of the go-to statements of friends of the hurting and often pops up in Bible studies about suffering. And the words sound good. They really do. When I’m struggling and wrestling with something hard, it would be nice to believe that it’s all okay and God wouldn’t let it happen if I couldn’t handle it.

The problem, though, is that it’s just wrong. Of course God will give us things we can’t handle! In fact, that’s basically His plan for your whole life.

We were not created to be self-sufficient and able to do all things by our own power no matter the pain. Also, God does not take a look at us before sending something hard in order to evaluate how He thinks we’ll hold up.

God puts us through things we can’t handle on purpose because the benefits are light-years greater than the pain. When we are in the middle of something devastating is the time when we have to look to God to step in and deliver us. They are the times when our faith is stretched farther than we thought it could go and our Lord proves Himself once again.

If you think back over your life, aren’t the really difficult times the ones that made the biggest impact on who you are today? I couldn’t handle my little sister being taken away by my own strength, but my faith has grown. And aren’t they generally the times that are followed by God’s great provision?

We are made to need support, something that today’s culture is trying to erase from our minds. Feminism tells women that they are strong and independent and don’t need men to help them. Movies and books tell kids that they’re better off without their parents or teachers, who lack the intelligence to present themselves respectably.

The Bible tells us the exact opposite. It contains countless examples of community and fellowship. Paul traveled with lots of different people and mentioned how they helped him in his ministry and persecution in his epistles. Adam was given Eve as a companion and helpmeet. Even Jesus brought His disciples with Him.

More important than human community is community with God. As I read 1 Corinthians a few days ago, a verse really stuck out to me. Paul is talking about how there shouldn’t be any divisions in the church between people who want to follow him or Apollos or anyone else. We should all be following God. So he is explaining how the church is built and grows by God’s work through us.

For we are God’s fellow workers. – 1 Corinthians 3:9a

Very short, but very powerful. We are not called to brave this life on our own, fighting every villain and slaying every dragon. Our God is there for us and we are called to work alongside Him. How humbling is that?

God will give you things you can’t handle – you can be sure of that. But when He does, He’ll also help you through, which is infinitely more encouraging.

Kira

How did you grow or learn when God gave you something you couldn’t get through by yourself? How did it lead to where you are now?