Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. (Psalm 23:6, NRSV)
On a past trip to visit my mom in Arizona I came to a new awareness. It wasn’t completely new, but it sure hit me in a new kind of way: I have very little tolerance with complaining. Let me clarify. I believe that there is room for dissatisfaction and the proper communicating of that. My problem is with people…like a woman at the movie theater.
Mom and I decided we were going to see the movie, “The Proposal.” Romantic comedies are one of my favorite genres of films (followed closely by Disney animation). I was pretty excited to see the film, partly because I like the star, Sandra Bullock, but also because it was nice to see a grown up movie (a grandma’s dilemma). We were standing in a line waiting to buy our tickets when a woman came in with a group and immediately began to complain. The line was too long. She wasn’t going to get a good seat. Couldn’t they afford to get adequate help so she didn’t have to wait? On and on she went.
When we got into the theater, even though it was a multiplex, she was seated right behind us. I don’t think she skipped a beat and went right on complaining, loud enough for everyone around her to hear (which was pretty loud, keeping in mind this is a retirement community). The upcoming movie ads were too long. The theater was too cold. The seats were too hard. Sandra Bullock was too thin. The movie was too predictable.
When I had enough, I leaned over to Mom and told her I was about ready to stuff a sock in the woman’s mouth. I wouldn’t have done it, but it was a tempting thought. After the movie Mom and I were laughing about it. Then she turned serious and informed me complaining is a way of life for the people down there. That ended the discussion, but not my thinking about it.
I am still mystified why retired folk in Arizona would be complaining. Sure it’s warm, okay hot, but it’s a dry heat. On that visit people were complaining about 30% humidity while the humidity back home in Ohio was over 100%. They live in beautiful homes, surrounded by amazing scenery. They are retired so all they have is time, but they complain about waiting. I just don’t get it.
I decided to make sure that it was complaining that I had the biggest problem with, so I checked the definition out on dictionary.com. The distinction that stuck out most clearly to me was the between expressing dissatisfaction and a constant whining complaining about everything. It wasn’t occasional dissatisfaction that bothered me, but that seemingly total frustration and complaint about everything that really grates on me. One of the descriptions is “to whine like a spoiled child.” And that hit it right on the head for me. Whiners and complainers walk around exuding some kind of sense of entitlement that irritates me to no end. That’s what got to me about the woman at the movie. She seemed to feel she was entitled to immediate attention, and seating, and the perfect movie experience.
As I read all the way through the definitions I found that they listed an antonym at the end. The antonym for complain is rejoice. How perfect is that! Paul admonishes the Philippians to do all things without grumbling or complaining. He moves through a discussion on growing spiritually deep and hits with pretty solid intensity their need to rejoice. And he says it again, probably louder and more forcefully: Rejoice! James echoes the teaching by telling the readers of his letter to “count it ALL joy.”
At one of the darkest and most shame-full periods of my life, not even my typically optimistic and sanguine personality seemed to be much help. I had to make a conscious effort to be thankful. I had to look for things to rejoice about. The more I looked, the more I found. The more I found, the better I felt, and the more joy that became apparent to others. The shame wasn’t erased, but the heaviness was lifted. I was surrounded by much whining and complaining but all I could feel was an abiding gratitude for the way God was bringing me through. I was in a dark, dark valley, but goodness and mercy walked me enabling me to avoid the grumbly pitfalls and come out on the side of joy.
Maybe that’s why I get easily irritated by the complaining and whining of others. I know where I’ve been and how easily it would have been to give up. But honestly, what good does whining and complaining do? I haven’t seen one occasion where it has made the situation better. Whereas, I have seen the insertion of thankfulness and joy into an otherwise abysmal situation make all the difference—for the good—in the world!
So don’t make me take out my sock! Things not going well? Look for what is and plant the seed of thankfulness. Who are your traveling mates on the journey? If they aren’t Goodness and Mercy, then beat feet away from the negativity and soak in the grace that will release you into joy! Who you travel with and how you travel is really up with you. You want some control? Control that!