Complaining

Complaining

I haven’t been getting very good rest lately. My cat acted loony and messed up the table cloth. My workout was really hard today – both squats and deadlifts. I regularly struggle with not liking something about my body. I was stuck behind slow-moving traffic while running errands today. I ordered some new pants, and they didn’t fit right. The dogs barked at the UPS delivery guy while my daughter was napping. These are just complaints I’ve thought since I woke up this morning. Without even trying, you can find yourself complaining or focusing on the negative far too often. This made me wonder: is it okay to complain?

I thought a good place to go to focus on this topic is the book of Job. To provide some context, in case you’ve never read Job, it goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a righteous man named Job who had lots and lots of possessions, a large, happy family, and honored God faithfully with his life. One day, God and Satan were having a conversation and God allowed Satan to test Job because Satan suspected that under trials, Job would curse God. So in a matter of hours, all of Job’s possessions (livestock) and all of his children were killed or taken away from him. Job was so upset that he tore his clothes and shaved his head (I’m assuming this was a custom of showing grief back then), but still, Job did not curse God. In fact, after cursing himself and the day he was born, he still had the faithfulness to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” [WOW!] As if the above wasn’t bad enough, God then allowed Satan to strike Job with boils from head to toe so that he was physically suffering in pain too. Job’s wife even pressured Job to curse God, but Job replied “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”

What an amazing response, so grounded in his resolve to love the Lord no matter what.

It’s true though, God is not only worthy of praise during the highs in our lives, but during the lows too.

The rest of Job is discussion back and forth between Job and his “friends” – Job cursing himself and questioning God about why this has befallen him, but never cursing Him, and then Job’s “friends” rebuking Job for being sinful. It’s a little hard to understand because it’s written in poetic form, but there is no doubt that Job is complaining about what has happened to him.

So back to my question: is it okay to complain? “Complain” is only mentioned 5 times in the New Testament, but only two verses stand out to me as addressing this question:

James 5:9
Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

and

1 Peter 4:9
Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

After contemplating these verses, and talking more with my husband, I don’t think the act of complaining is in and of itself wrong, but I think it steers your thoughts and attitude inward (selfishness, bitterness, etc.) Perhaps it’s better to ask: is complaining beneficial? I would of course answer no, most often complaining is not beneficial and only leads me to focus on myself.

In life and especially when experiencing suffering it’s easy for me to complain about a lot of things. My takeaway from this is that if I feel the need to complain, I should do so to God, just like Job did, but not to others because who wants to be around a negative person?

It’s okay to ask God why something has happened to you. It’s not okay to blame Him or curse Him, but I think it’s part of us having a relationship with Him to question Him and express anguish or confusion over something in our lives we do not understand. But ultimately, we should trust Him and keep faith and hope in Him amidst trials in our lives.

I like how Job does this in these two verses:

Job 13:14
Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.

Job 14:14
All the days of my struggle I will wait 
Until my change comes.

I love that last one, I will wait until my change comes. It’s a great reminder that every period of suffering has a beginning and must therefore have an end. Someday, somehow.

The Worry Ferrari

worry

On a fairly regular basis I will toss and turn, unable to fall asleep, but also unable to let go of a particular thought that worries me. It could be as simple as thinking I heard a noise and all the possibilities of what it could be, or it could be related to something that happened earlier that day or that I will need to do tomorrow. Either way, I often wrestle with taking my thoughts captive. It’s as if I have a Worry Ferrari inside my head that can go from zero to worried in six seconds (but often less time than that). Isn’t it amazing how quickly your mind can fill with thoughts of worry?

We have all heard that no good will come from worrying, but if you’re at all like me, you probably know how hard it can be to halt worrisome thoughts when you’re cruising down that highway in the Worry Ferrari.

25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:25-34

So what do you do when you just can’t seem to stop your mind from focusing on those thoughts? I have learned (most recently from The Grace Walk by Steve McVey) that not all your thoughts are your own.

Satan or his demons skillfully study you and know exactly which thoughts to suggest in your mind – but they’re sure to plant thoughts that are in the first person so you may not even recognize that you didn’t think it on your own.

They are very talented at what they do, I’ll give them that. After they plant a thought, I often take the bait and off to the races I go…

“3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

So if your thoughts are speculative (worried, anxious), lofty (self-focused), or don’t align with the knowledge of God, there’s a good chance those thoughts are not your own. Taking your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ – or to put it more simply: abiding in Christ – is the answer. Trying to take charge of your thoughts on your own efforts is never going to work in the long run – you need Christ to do it for you. Seeking Christ in those moments I’m struggling to stop worrying is the surest way to stop driving that Worry Ferrari.

Comparison

Comparisonis thethiefof joy

It’s so easy to compare yourself to someone else, especially in a culture where people often post the best, happiest, most glamorous representation of themselves. Wishing you were a better parent, wishing you could look like them, wishing your job was as fulfilling as theirs, wishing that others were more like you…

It is so true that comparison is the thief of joy – it only leads to feelings of inadequacy or superiority, and nothing in between.

When it comes to suffering, it can be easy for you to compare your experience to someone else’s. Again, you will likely think one of two opposing thoughts: “I’m glad my suffering wasn’t as bad as theirs” or “They didn’t suffer as much as I’m suffering.

But comparing your specific suffering to another’s will only steal your joy. Everyone’s journey in life is going to look different. Even if the type of suffering is the same, we are each unique and respond to suffering in unique ways. Therefore, you will never have the same journey as another.

Can it be beneficial to relate to others about your suffering? Absolutely! It can be helpful to know others who have shared in similar types of suffering because they can offer encouragement and wisdom. But relating to others is very different from comparing your journey to another’s.

The surest way to maintain joy as you experience suffering is to abide in Christ.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. -Colossians 3:1-4

Choosing Joy Amidst Suffering

I cannot count the number of times that I have retreated to the corner of my closet to curl up in a fetal position and sob, snot and all. Whether I was battling thoughts of despair regarding our struggles with infertility, or just needed to stop everything for a moment and face some serious emotions that I had been trying to bury, to my closet I would go. I don’t know why I picked my closet. I suppose it just felt safe and non-judgmental. But most of all, it was quiet and free of distractions. It was a place I could completely bare my inner thoughts, fears, and anguish before the Lord.

Like you, I too know what it’s like to experience suffering. Not only have we experienced suffering in our marriage as two people who sometimes act selfishly try to form a life together, but we have struggled for five years with unexplained infertility. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s a struggle that isn’t often spoken about, but affects 1 in 8 couples. I spent years questioning why God was making us wait to become parents when it appeared to come so easily to most of our friends. After God worked in our hearts and we became open to the idea of adopting, we rejoiced in receiving the call from our caseworker that a birth family had chosen us to adopt their baby. But even with that joyous news, our suffering did not end. My mother-in-law, Lisa, was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the fall of 2014, and she died eight days after our daughter was born. A few months later, my nearly 95-year-old Meemaw died of peritoneal cancer. A month later, the long-time friend and man who first shared the gospel with my husband died of brain cancer.

Suffering is inevitable.

Because we live in a broken world – a world with sin – all people will experience suffering in some form or another. You’re not the only one suffering. Believer or non-believer, all people experience suffering because we live in a world ruled by Satan at the moment. Jesus Himself suffered, arguably the most of all.

Though you may be tempted to think otherwise, God does not cause your suffering. Instead, He allows you to experience suffering in the hope that you will trust Him completely.

A wonderful book I’ve read recently (The Grace Walk by Steve McVey) distinguishes between suffering and brokenness. He says that a person may experience suffering, but not necessarily reach a place of brokenness. He says that brokenness is when a person reaches the end of themselves, of their own self-efforts or attempts at controlling their lives, and instead decides to surrender to God and trust Him completely.

Reaching a place of brokenness seems really scary before it happens. But as someone who has experienced suffering that led to brokenness, I can promise you that there is so much peace and joy to be found in that moment.

Because after reaching a place of brokenness, you will never view your suffering in the same way again.

You will begin to see that there is so much good to be found in your suffering. Before you write me off as crazy, hear me out. Reaching a place of brokenness – where you decide to completely trust God no matter what happens – will help you to choose a joyful attitude. Unlike the feeling of happiness, joy is a state of mind. Joy is something you can choose even if you feel sad. You will be able to look at your suffering and focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have. You will be able to see how much God has taught you or how much He has moved throughout your suffering. And ultimately, you will bring glory to God because other people watching you respond to your suffering by choosing joy will be perplexed. Christ will do such a wondrous work through you as you learn to trust Him more and more.