John will be 4 years old in a few days. Where did the time go? Cliche, but seriously, where did it go? If someone can find it for me, I’d really like to have it back. Though, if it’s possible, I’d like to be selective about what parts I would like back. For example, I would absolutely love to have back John’s first time he found his toes. He could suck on his toes like they were thumbs, it was hysterical. I would also love to experience again John’s delight when he finally let go of the wall and started to walk across the room. His amazement at his accomplishment was beautiful and so much fun (and a huge new challenge for us) to have a real walker.
With all those good memories are of course some that aren’t so great. Presently, I would be happy to let go of the whining. Oh my goodness, the whining!! It feels like every time I have to tell John “no” or “stop” or “John, you may not play baseball in the house, or give Clare a hug so strong she falls over, or push Rosie out of the way (after politely opening the refrigerator for her) so that you can get your milk first and proceed to spill it all over the refrigerator, the floor, and your sister” he has a complete melt down. Or, my personal favorite, flat out tells me no. Me – his mother! Oh no, that’s not how this house works. It’s all I can do some days to make it to bedtime when I can sit down with a glass of wine.
I’m not sure how I’m going to effectively, compassionately and patiently deal with John. But his whiney attitude has gotten me thinking. Do I whine? Or, to be a bit more sophisticated do I complain (but let’s all be honest, complaining is just whining with somewhat more articulate words)? As I thought about it more, I was shocked to realize that one of the first things that came to mind was a phrase that you may be familiar with: “I don’t mean to complain but…” What I’m really saying is “I’m about to complain about something, but I’m going to throw this little disclaimer in front of it to make it all aright and now you have to listen to me.” And, I hate to admit it, I say this more often than I would like.
God never said “Thou shall not complain.” Jesus never told his disciples “Guys, stop complaining about how many people are following us. I’ll deal with dinner.” God lets us complain.
What is complaining? Why do we do it? We complain when something/someone irritates us or when we are lacking something. When we feel something is out of order, most of us at least, will probably complain about it, even just to ourselves. We complain when we are worried, when we feel things are not going the way we want it, or when something is beyond our control.
To be fair, there are very legitimate times in life when a situation may be unfair, when something happens that we do not like or are hurt by, or when we are feeling under-appreciated.
Take this story from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 4:35-41) from a few Sundays ago. Jesus tells his disciples they should cross to the other side of the lake. That night, there was a storm. Jesus, apparently, is a heavy sleeper and doesn’t notice. The disciples are worried and scared so they go to wake Jesus with this fabulous line: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.” Do you not care is about as close to complaining as you can get in my book. Our pastor had an interesting take on this scripture. He asked us to think about the level of trust the disciples demonstrated in this situation versus how much they should have had in Jesus. Didn’t they trust he would take care of them? Why were they so concerned? They were, after all, pretty much all fishermen. And yet they were worried enough to wake Jesus and complain that he did not care about them.
Jesus’ response is excellent: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Do you not yet have faith? Our pastor had another interesting insight to offer, one I hadn’t thought about before. Remember how I said maybe Jesus was a heavy sleeper? What if Jesus was only pretending to be asleep, waiting to see how long before the disciples faith weakened – a test, if you will. This was my big take-away.
When I complain about something, I am usually still trying to control and fully understand the situation. I am acting like the disciples – questioning whether or not God cares.
God does care. Time and again, scripture and experience have confirmed for me that God doesn’t simply care, He is wholly committed to my happiness. So, instead of whining about when things aren’t going my way, I need to let go of the problem. The harder I hold onto it, the longer I keep it to myself, the louder the whining. So, when I find myself whining, it means it’s time to take a minute, breathe deeply, sometimes have a glass of wine, and loosen my grip.
If you feel like your boat is rocking in waves beyond your control, maybe it’s time to wake up Jesus, maybe it’s time for that glass of wine.