Allow me to recite our household’s currently most-quoted verse: “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). I hate, oh yes, hate whining. Grrr. This verse is now standardly incorporated into my requests to my children: “Without complaining or arguing, I would like you to pick up the toy I nearly broke my neck on.” As author Ginger Plowman has recommended, I’d like my kids to obey right away, all the way, and with a joyful heart.
Getting that to happen is without a doubt an uphill (let’s not forget 18-year) battle. But today in church I was gently prodded by the Holy Spirit that, ahem, I need to check my own heart about as often as I check theirs.
My pastor was conveniently mentioning that in the book of Numbers, God actually sent venomous snakes upon the Israelites for complaining … and from what I can recall, this is not the only complaining/grumbling/whining punishment they received in their pre-Canaan days.
Here’s the thing. As a mom of preschoolers, I have a lot of very legitimate reasons to be quite frustrated with my life, which is, with each child, less and less my own. Along with life’s truly painful times of suffering, my guess is that like me, you’ve had your share of “one of those days,” sleepless nights and throw up on your clothes, to-do lists eight times longer than your grocery list, too little budget for too much month, disobedient and/or embarrassing children, telephone calls in tears to your husband, one-more-thing-and-I’m-going-to-the-funny-farm moments (or months). Other people also empathize with our situation—this is a good thing—and let us know that yes, we have a reason to feel like labor somehow didn’t stop at delivery of these children.
But sometimes I really do focus on the things that are going wrong. I feel like my day has been more praiseworthy or legitimate if I can chalk it up to suffering for Jesus. Silly as it sounds in print, I can feel more comfortable if my day was worse than my husband’s, if I can think of all the things today that have led to me feeling this frustrated, or if I’ve really survived something or someone difficult. Complaining is an easy sin to hide because it can fester in my heart, where it can be spiritualized and rationalized.
Now please understand, suffering for Jesus is of an irreplaceable beauty! But Jesus pursued the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:3). And I am to count it all joy, sisters, when I face trials of many kinds (James 1:3).
Suffering and self-denial aren’t an end in themselves. I repeat, I am not a more worthy Christian if my life stinks! Instead, what if rather than looking at my life as an opportunity for martyrdom, I allowed God to fill me with joyful submission and thankfulness in whatever circumstances? Joy is often discussed in the Bible with direct correlation to suffering. And it’s a fruit of the Spirit because He’s the only place I can get it! Is He not more glorified by my reaction to circumstances that make my heart plummet?
God’s granted us some level of discernment to detect the things that are not good here on earth, the things that are not the way He intended them to be. The Curse is a heavy burden. He has created a longing for Heaven and His perfection in us. But what if I stop complaining and instead view those occasions as opportunities to restate my faith in Him, my contentment, my heart willing to seize God’s will for me—obeying “right away, all the way, and with a joyful heart”?
It’s something for me to meditate on. After all, that’s why I’m teaching my kids how to obey—because ultimately, it’s teaching them how and why to obey Him.
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!