Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. [Philippians 2:14-15]
It’s so easy to compare ourselves to other people and complain about our own lives. Competition seems to come so easily to us because we want the best for ourselves, and the zero-sum theory suggests that if someone is “better off” than us, it’s because someone else had to lose something – everything you gain must come from somewhere, at some cost to someone.
Finals week brings out the worst in people, and I could never see it in myself until this past week. When we’re physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, it’s no wonder we’re also spiritually drained as well, since our spirit encompasses every aspect of our being. We succumb to our innate, base desires and characters, to who we are apart from God. I had forgotten just how scary and dark it really is to live as if we were our own and reject God; let’s just say I would not have wanted any of my thoughts this week to be projected, for even five minutes, onto a large screen in a public place, for all the world to see how truly sinful I am.
“Why is this line so slow? Can’t you go any faster? I don’t have time for this.”
“Why are there so many people in this dining hall? People don’t eat during finals week.”
“It’s so hot, I’m literally melting.”
“It’s too cold. Why is it raining? It does not rain here.”
“Why won’t you let us park here and load my stuff quickly? It’ll only take a few minutes.”
“How am I supposed to carry three suitcases by myself?”
“Why aren’t my parents here to help me move out like everyone else’s parents?”
“How are you done with finals already, before I even start mine? I hate you.”
These thoughts are only just a small selection of all the complaining I did this week. Reflecting back on these complaints has humbled me and reminded me of what a sinner I really am, thinking I deserve everything to go according to my plans and expectations, or that they should. Seeing them all written out like this, it’s become obvious how self-centered each complaint is.
Even now as I’m writing this, I find myself still struggling not to complain while a baby is screaming on the plane. My heart was complaining. I was complaining. My entire being revolved around myself, what I needed, what I wanted, what I didn’t have, what other people had. When we complain, it’s because of our demand to be the center of everything – our pride and selfishness. We convince ourselves that God won’t provide for us, or He didn’t provide us the best. We stop ourselves from believing in God’s perfect orchestration in our lives.
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones [Proverbs 17:22]. When we complain, we’re too focused on the now. When we complain, we are in the world, rather than being a light to the rest of the world. People often say that worrying takes away today’s peace, but complaining takes away today’s joy.
Complaining removes our humanity, our empathy, our compassion for others. “This is Water,” a video I actually watched in class (because we really didn’t have anything better to do), reminds me again and again that complaining, even if it’s only in our hearts, isn’t fair to other people – we don’t understand their circumstances, we don’t know why things are the way they are (ex: a slow checkout line). Most likely, if we knew, we would understand and stop complaining. Practically speaking, we can never completely understand the entire situation each time we want to complain, but when we stop to think about other people and what they’re going through, we stop only focusing on ourselves and our issues. That’s when we can stop complaining.
This week, I challenge myself, and all of us, to try to stop complaining for a week. Just for a week. See how it feels. See how God fills (and has always filled) our days with little joys that we otherwise would’ve missed. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear…. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you [Ephesians 4:29,32]. We only have so much time in a day. We are not worth our own time. Complaining profits us nothing. Why spend our time complaining when we can use those same amount of words to build each other up instead?
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. [James 1:2-4]