Complaining Is a Spiritual Problem
By Ann Swindell
August 19, 2014
I really don’t like cleaning the dishes. I’d rather fold laundry, change a diaper, vacuum—anything. I will gladly do a lot of things before I have to do the dishes. And we even have a dishwasher.
And although I cringe to admit it, I have complained about “having” to clean the dishes to my husband, my sister, my friends—just about anyone who will listen. Typing that out makes me sound like a whiny 3-year-old. Which, if I’m being honest, is true. Sometimes I act like a spiritual 3-year-old. I complain about dishes, I complain about traffic, I complain about the weather. You name it, I’ve probably complained about it in some form or fashion.
Complaining, griping, whining, grousing—whatever you want to call it, it’s a spiritual problem.
The problem is not, actually, the dirty dishes. And the problem is not the backup on I-355 or the snow that wouldn’t budge for six months.
The problem is not, actually, the dirty dishes. And the problem is not the backup on I-355. The problem is me. The problem is how I see the world.
The problem is how I see the world.
The Center of the Universe
Because when I put myself at the center of existence, everything that isn’t tailor-made to my desires becomes something I can complain about. My husband’s pastoring job that keeps him out late several times a week? I see it as a hindrance to my own personal happiness when I have to eat dinner alone or put our daughter to bed without his help.
The fact that our car busted its water pipe and we have to pay hundreds of dollars for a new one? I see it as money that I shouldn’t have to spend. The laundry that I forgot in the washer for two days that now smells awful and needs to be re-washed? I see it as an inconvenience and an annoyance. The fact that I have to spend hours and hours every week grading stacks of papers that my students may barely review? I see it as a thankless part of my teaching job. All because I am setting myself at the center of my life.
How We Respond to Life Matters to God
Now hear me—I’m not talking about dealing with the very real, very sobering, very heart-wrenching realities that millions of people in the world face every day. Horrible things are happening in this country and around the world as I type this, and as Christians, we are called to attend to the hurting and poor and to offer help that is both spiritual and tangible. Those things deserve true grieving and tears and a mighty response of compassion. Complaining about life and seeking justice for genuine wrongs are two different things.
But that’s not what this is about. This is about the daily complaints that I mutter—that many of us mutter—in the regularity of our lives. I’m not trying to make myself or anyone else feel guilty about “first-world problems,” because most of us reading this will never face starvation or genocide. But what we will face is our own lives, and how we respond to our own lives matters to God, because it is the only life we can live.
And so this is where I must turn to the truth of a different reality—one where I’m not the sun that everything else is circling around. The Bible tells me about this different reality, about a King and His Kingdom, and it tells me that I am decidedly not at the center of this world.
The Bible tells me about this different reality, about a King and His Kingdom, and it tells me that I am decidedly not at the center of this world.
1 Corinthians 4:7 asks the question: “What do you have that you did not receive?” And to that question, I must reply: nothing. My husband who works late for his job? Both the man and his job are gifts from God, who has given me a spouse and has provided for our family through that job. The car that needs repairing? That car is a gift from God: it transports us to where we need to go, safely and quickly. The washing machine that holds smelly laundry? That is a gift from God that enables us to wash our clothes easily and effectively. The job that keeps me glued to my desk? That is a gift from God that allows me to use my talents in ways that help others.
All of it, a gift. And when I see from this perspective, I have no room for complaint. Yes, there are many difficult days in this life we live, but everything we have—even the lemon of a car or the job that keeps us up late—all of these things are gifts from a generous God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17)
So when the traffic slows or the weather freezes or the dishes pile up, I have a choice. I can see myself at the center of the world and grouse about everything that doesn’t make my life easier. Or I can acknowledge the truth that I am not on any throne, but that the King who is has given me everything I have—even my heart beating in my chest—as a gift.
And so here is what I can offer instead of complaint: thankfulness. Gratefulness. Praise.