11.25.2015

Complaining About Complaining

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With Thanksgiving coming up, I figured I would devote a post to complaining about complaining.  Well, hopefully there is some insight and soul-searching amidst the complaining.

First, why do we complain?  A lot of reasons, which I won’t be able to comprehensively list off the top of my head.  For starters, we don’t realize how good we have it.  We may tend to discount the good and amplify the bad.  Or, we may have unresolved anger or disappointment or jealousy that manifests itself in complaining about one thing but really that’s just a proxy for a much bigger grievance that we haven’t yet worked out. 

Consider also the social element of complaining.  After all, when it feels good to complain, it’s not because of the complaining itself, it’s having an audience for the complaining.  (If you disagree, try ranting to yourself and see how unsatisfying it is.)  So what do we get out of complaining to others?  Maybe it’s a cry for much-needed sympathy.  Maybe there’s joy in sharing in a grievance against a mutually hated group, whether a sports team or a political party.  Maybe there’s a little bit of “humblebrag” going on – oh look at me juggling so many parental tasks at home or lamenting that I’m missing a key ingredient for the eight-course meal I’ve been able to whip up in the midst of working a demanding job. 

I’m sure there are other reasons why it feels good to complain, but I’ll stop there.  As a person of faith, complaining is an indicator of ungratefulness, which is more serious of a problem than you might think.  But before I get into that, let me just clarify that by ungratefulness I do not mean that we are chipper in all situations.  For sure, life is awful sometimes, and it is not meant for people of faith to keep up a sunny countenance through it all. 

But there is a difference between always having a smile and always being grateful.  Life may knock us down so badly that it seems there is no end to the darkness that has enveloped us.  We need not always be able to say easily that God is working good in the totality of our lives, including the rough patches.  We need not always feel close to God or feel He is close to us, or at least this is the conclusion I have drawn from my read of the Psalms, a surprising number of which are raw rants against God amid crushing devastation.  But somewhere in our soul, even if we have let go of God, we may hold out hope that He has not let go of us.  There is tumult all around us, but also a faint sense that there is an anchor nearby.

Thankfully, most of us, most of the time, are not swimming in such crisis.  And yet still we whine and bicker and generally harbor a cynical and snobby attitude towards life.  To steal a line from a Louis CK monologue, we gripe about flying (a common source of complaints) without considering just how miraculous and privileged an experience it is.  To extend this line of thinking even further, many of our most common complaints in this country belie a level of luxury that is unthinkable to the rest of the world and the rest of history – hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, TV shows, sporting events, and yes even politics. (Read the non-US sections of The Economist if you ever need a reminder about how good we have it here.) 

As a dad, it enrages me when my kids act like this.  Partly it’s because I’m trying to raise them as thankful and respectful people.  But partly it’s because it is a slap in the face to me and my wife.  We work hard to provide for them, and sweat so much small stuff as part of that, and as a result they live the charmed life, but don’t fully appreciate it.  Believing in a good God who is lavish and wise in His provision to all, I can only begin to contemplate how irked He must be at our potty attitudes. 

End rant.  Enjoy this Thanksgiving season, and give yourself more fully to a spirit of gratitude.  I know I will try to.
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