Whenever we go back to our hometown of Chicago we always battle to see everyone, from friends to family, with such limited time. Of course family always come first and so this sometimes means we don't see friends resulting in some getting hurt, disappointed or sometimes even offended. There's even been trips to Chicago where we go incognito without telling anyone and without posting anything on social media so no one will know we were there.
This trip during spring break I had a small window to see my best friend from around 10 am until around 12:15 pm before I had a hair appointment. I woke up, got ready and was getting in my car to leave. I got a text from my friend asking if on my way to her house I could stop and get her a bag of baby carrots that she needed for dinner.
I immediately got frustrated because I hadn't seen her in forever and we had so much to catch up on and this would eat into my limited time with her. I also had no idea where to get baby carrots on the way because I was coming from a direction I'm not as familiar with and honestly in just 2 years of being away, a lot has changed. I felt myself complaining in my mind over something so trivial that I chalked up to an inconvenience.
Well let me give you some more facts about my friend. She is the mother of 6 precious children (ages 2-12) who she home schools, is pregnant with baby #7, and due in 8 weeks. So running to the store to get these baby carrots is not that simple. She would've had to bundle up her children, get them all in the car, unpack them from the car, go inside with her entourage, pay, load them all back into the car, get home and get them all settled back in. All while being very pregnant. What ended up taking me 10 minutes tops would probably have taken her 45 minutes to an hour. I knew all this but I was still fighting the "inconvenience" feelings. Gosh, even writing this I feel so incredibly selfish and like a terrible friend. Besides, one of the things I love about this friend is she is really good at asking for help when she needs it within boundaries. Aren't they adorable?
I share this ugly moment of my heart to illustrate how I chose to change my perspective and fight those selfish, negative, complaining sentiments of my flesh, that if we're honest, we all have.
People with complaining spirits are draining to be around. There's something about complaining that gives birth to more complaining. Like yeast, it spreads. What starts out as a complaint about one thing, spreads and moves into a complaint about something else slightly related and so on and so on. It'll try to latch on to you and draw you in to its clutches. It's contagious and infectious. Before you know it, all the life has been sucked out of you because you have this dismal perspective on life bred through strings of small complaints. "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines" Song of Solomon 2:15. It only takes a little fox (or a little complaining, or a little lie, or a little compromise) to spoil the whole vine.
Then complaining becomes like an addiction. It becomes a terrible habit. That's why it's so important to choke these small complaints (like getting baby carrots) at the onset and at the roots so they don't give life to more complaints.
Grumbling and complaining is what caused the Israelite's (God's very own chosen people) to spend 40 years in the desert. I don't know about you, but I don't want to delay entering the promise land God has for me because I was too busy grumbling and complaining about little things like getting a bag of baby carrots for someone I love. I want to live my life purposefully and intentionally with positive perspectives and attitudes that will draw people to want to be around me, not repel them from my presence. I don't want to have a good attitude outwardly, but inwardly have a complaint. That's disingenuous.
That's great, but how do I refrain from complaining? That day on my way to spend time with my friend, I shifted my thought pattern of complaining to rejoicing and focused on how I got to be a blessing to her by picking up the baby carrots her family would enjoy in the stew she was making that night for dinner. I intentionally began putting on a new attitude. The first step was I recognized I was complaining in my heart about something I knew would be a huge blessing to someone else...someone else I loved and appreciated dearly.
"Do all things without grumbling or questioning" Philippians 2:14 ESV
"Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:9 ESV
"A joyful heart is good medicine" Proverbs 17:22 ESV
After you recognize you are complaining (even if it's in your heart and not spoken out loud), you must intentionally chose to focus on the positives. Intentionality is so powerful. The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines intentional as: "a determination to act in a certain way: resolve." To combat complaining and negativity (no matter how small the complaints may be), you have to consciously make a firm decision to act opposite of the fleshly complaint. What's the opposite of complaining to combat that spirit that tries to oppress us? Gratitude and thankfulness.
That morning, I changed my attitude to gratitude with intentionality, determination, and resolve. I focused on the blessing I could be and not on my minor inconvenience. I reminded myself of truths in the Bible of giving with a cheerful heart and that it's better to give than to receive. I chose to think on those things.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" Philippians 4:8 ESV
What if we operated our thoughts like this sign: "For protection of our customers, and employees, and the property, this location [our mind] is being monitored and recorded." God is monitoring, recording and cares about your thoughts and words. Matthew 12:36 reminds us that we will give an account for every careless word that comes out of our mouth. And before a complaint comes out of your mouth, it begins as a thought. Protect your thoughts from complaints entering so they will not come out and cause damage.
It's easy to find and focus on the negative things, but when things inconvenience, frustrate or irritate you, can you flip your thoughts to find and focus on the positives? Here's a challenge for you. For 24 hours try not complaining about anything and see how that will lead to less worry, anxiety, doubt, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness and unresolved hurts. For some this 24 hours challenge will be extremely difficult because you may have years of ingrained habits of complaining about the majority of things you encounter throughout your day. Consider it a 24 hour "complaint fast" and deny your flesh this toxicity. Monitor (like the sign) the complaining thoughts for 24 hours.
Another strategy to reduce whining and complaining is, for every complaint, come up with a solution. And don't just come up with a solution...BE the solution. If you're not willing to put skin in the game, are you really qualified to complain? Something to think about.
I pray through God's grace and wisdom, you and I can turn our complaint meter into one of sincere gratitude that is infectious and contagious to all in our sphere of influence.
May this be our prayer every morning:
"Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24