The title of this post is from Paul David Tripp’s excellent lenten devotional Journey to the Cross. He writes that “it is impossible to give thanks and complain at the same time.” As you well know, lent is a season for reflection and for looking at how we lead our lives and where we are in need of changes and even saving. One of the practices in my life that could use changing (and forgiving) is grumbling aka complaining.
It is a well known truth that among the easiest ways to lose a habit is to intentionally replace it with another one, like smokers who learn to chew gum (nicotine gum or not), or nail biters who learn to put their hands in their pockets. Perhaps if one finds oneself complaining a lot then replacing the complaint with a thanksgiving would slowly shift one away from the complaining. This plan permits the complaint but turns it into a trigger for a thank you (at least I hope it will).
I am capable of complaining with the best of them, speeders in their steel traps upset me, don’t get me started on OC Transpo (which I don’t even use because I am privileged to live a mostly walkable lifestyle), mention certain people or organizations in my presence and be prepared for a speech; I bet you get my drift and have your own list of complaints. I might never forget the man who was upset one day in my office because his wife of 50 some years was away for a girls weekend and she had turned the dishwasher on before she left (leaving him a clean kitchen!) And he was upset and lingering in my office because he knew when he got home he would have to unload the dishwasher himself (gasp!). This sort of thing would be funny if it didn’t rob us of the pleasures right in front of us, like being thankful for the many privileges that man had, or for the fact that I am not reliant on OC Transept to get around.
1 Thessalonians calls us to give thanks in all circumstances, and gratitude is called for in many other places in the bible. Gratitude is an important practice in the faith. We give thanks not just for our circumstances, though writing this by a fire, typing away on a multi-thousand dollar apple desktop with fair trade coffee by my side and listening to my children get ready for school all gives me much to be thankful for, Jesus gives me more to be thankful for.
Jesus can overcome my spirit of grumbling and point me in the right direction. Jesus can forgive where I fail to be grateful which is good for my soul and also empowers me to apologize for a lack of thankfulness. Holy Spirit promises to help me out as I seek to turn complaints into thanksgivings. Jesus did what I cannot do so that I can live and eternal life I could not otherwise live. And while I am here I can live with a freedom, generosity, and abundance that would be beyond me on my own. It all amounts to eyes that see all there is to be grateful for amidst the brokenness.
To complain is to find lack. To complain is to fail to see all that is gift.
May we each receive the gift of gratitude as the snow melts and the flowers being their journey skyward, resurrecting from their winter sleep.