Friday, October 07, 2005

To complain or not...

Do everything without complaining or arguing. Philippians 2:14

“Ain’t it Awful.” Those were the words printed across the top of the chart my daughter Sheryle brought home from Sunday school when she was 10. That day, her Bible teacher emphasized not complaining.

Sheryle attached the chart to the front of the fridge. Vertically, the grid had each family member’s name, and horizontally, the days of the week. She said she would monitor the family. If anyone complained, she’d say “Ain’t it awful” and place a mark by the name of the offender.

I smiled, thinking how much the children needed this lesson. Later Sunday afternoon, I dropped a bowl of cookie dough. Guess who whined? Me.

My daughter, the self-appointed president of the complaint department, said, “Ain’t it awful,” and I received the first black mark on the chart.

Aggravations may arrive in bunches. They often cluster into a single hour, clamoring for attention. Glitches in paper work, a hangnail, or a flat tire. All can seem monstrous.

When frustrations mount, it’s tempting to tattle to someone and gripe about the latest mishaps. Resist complaining because grumbling is contagious. The story of 12 scouts who explored the land of Canaan is in Numbers chapter 14: when the twelve men returned to their families, ten complained about giant warriors in the land. They in turn “made the whole community grumble“(vs. 36).

Griping focuses on what is wrong, instead of on what is going right, the blessings from God. Charles Hodge says, “The really happy man is one who enjoys the scenery when on a detour.” This past week my can opener disappeared. I literally opened cans with a stout knife and metal meat mallet. Do not try this at home. The good about that situation: I had food. I had tools, and I didn’t even nick a finger.

In that same week while driving in heavy traffic, a fire ant assaulted my sandaled toes. I endured his stinging complaint for nearly a mile before it was safe enough to eliminate the problem. A blessing to focus on: one less fire ant in the world. Sorry, fire ant lovers.

So many times in preaching, teaching and writing, problems are identified, but solutions are not offered. The apostle Paul offered remedies to tetchy problems. When he wrote his letter to the Philippians he was in a Roman prison. Early in his correspondence he said, “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Paul was under guard, confined, restricted, incarcerated, but again and again, at least eight times, he encouraged the Philippians to rejoice.

Near the end of Paul’s letter, he gives the antidote to complaining: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (4:8). He also gave credit to God for enabling him to say, “I have learned to be content in all circumstances” (4:11).

I taped another “Ain’t it awful” chart on my refrigerator — a reminder to think about the good in life, even if detour signs go up this week.

You may contact Cathy Messecar at

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