The Spiritual Danger in Grumbling

I don't know about you, but if there was such a thing, I could definitely earn an Olympic gold medal for grumbling. Top of the podium, my friends. I would leave my competitors in the dust. 

Complaining is a trap that I fall into often, and one that I've let slide over the years. Everyone does it. Life is broken and annoying. What's the big deal if I voice a few frustrations, or let the stream of grumbling flow in mind?

Driving is a great example of this. I've never had much patience on the road, but since I began working at home about than a year and a half ago, my tolerance for traffic has reduced drastically. I rarely find myself in rush hour traffic since I have no commute, and when I do go out during the day, light traffic is a tremendous annoyance.

I was driving last night when Andrew and I went out for an impromptu Valentine's date. Up until yesterday, we proclaimed our self-righteous defiance of the holiday with confidence: Valentine's Day is one of the most commercialized holidays out there! Love should be a daily act, not something that you can tick off one day of the year with flowers or chocolates! Ugh! Disgust!

Nonetheless, I found myself putting on my favorite red blouse, smearing on some red lipstick, and feeling like we should go see a movie at the very least. I mean, it was discount night at St. Louis Cinemas! Why wouldn't we go out? Hypocrisy at its finest, my friends. Perhaps Valentine's Day is just another day to love with intention, and the calendar reminder doesn't hurt.

Anyway, I was behind the wheel to and from our date, and I found myself speaking aloud toward other driver's in a not-so-nice fashion, pretty much constantly. I'm not used to having Andrew in the car with me that often, and his presence made me more aware of my frustrated ranting. 

I don't like you at all, what are you doing?! Why are you in the left lane and going 5 under? The left lane is the fast lane! Why is everybody driving like an idiot? 

My awareness of my grumbling was heightened by the fact that I'd listened to a sermon earlier that day on, you guessed it, grumbling. The experience in the car caused me to stop and think, Whoa. Am I really falling into this trap that often, and that easily?

I follow a wonderful blog called Practical Theology for Women written by Wendy Alsup. Her most recent post hit my inbox yesterday, and it was a discussion of sin in the midst of suffering. Wendy is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, among other things, and she talked about how a sermon from her previous church in Seattle provided some helpful insight into the biblical perspective on grumbling.

The sermon is from 2009, but is still available on Grace Church Seattle's website here, if you're interested. In this talk, John Haralson does a fantastic job of walking through Philippians 2 and talking about the Bible's warning against grumbling.

I listened to this sermon while I took a walk yesterday, and it was a big ol' smack in the face about the recent state of my heart. It was a warning, and for the first time I took it as seriously as it was meant to be received. 

There were a few major takeaways that I gleaned from the sermon, and I'll walk through them now. Hopefully these will be beneficial for you as you examine your own heart.

#1 - Grumbling is a surreptitious danger that can quietly wreck your faith. 

The most fascinating and eye-opening part of the sermon was the argument that God warns against grumbling because it can wreck your faith. I hadn't considered grumbling to be as serious as many of the other sins the Bible warns against--what was the big deal?

But the end point of grumbling is the conclusion that something is wrong, and because of that, God is not good. 

Think about that for a minute. I'll use the traffic scenario above as a common, more frivolous example, but the logic still applies. My stream of thought in the car can quickly transition from frustration at the drivers around me, to doubting the sovereignty and goodness of God. Look at this stream of thought, pulled straight from my own experience:

Man, everybody is driving like a moron today! Ugh!
Why am I hitting every single light on the way? That's so unfair. I don't always hit them, and I happen to hit them NOW, when I'm running late?
God, you could make these lights green, but You're not doing it. WHY?

Bam. Grumbling about traffic somehow meanders its way down to "Is God really good? If He is, why isn't He intervening?" 

At this point, you may be thinking, "Traffic, really? That's what you're complaining about?" Fair point! Let's talk about something more significant, a "lack" that can be more accurately categorized as suffering.

I've mentioned previously that I went through a long season of spiritual abuse, which led me to suffer from complex-PTSD for a season. All of this began about 3 days after Andrew and me returned from our honeymoon, and it was a long, agonizing haul. I spent a lot of time ignoring God altogether, but eventually I started incorporating God into my anger about the events that came to pass.

My pretty-much-daily train of thought looked something like this: 

Why did that abusive person have to be a part of my life? Why did this abuse have to wreck my time as an employee at the church, which seemed to be an incredible fit for me? Why am I not seeing justice for the wrong done? God, you put him there! You set him in the middle of my life and you let him wreck it, RIGHT after my honeymoon! My first year of marriage is characterized by survival and tears and anger instead of what it could have been. You've robbed me of a gift that I've waited and waited for, and you're not doing anything about it to make it right. You can't be good. You just can't be. You laughed while you dropped a bomb on our lives, at the very beginning of our marriage. Why? 

Do you see the progression woven into those thoughts? Something is awful, and God's not doing anything about it, therefore God can't be good. That's some serious damage to my faith, right there! My entire image of God was uprooted, and theologically incorrect. I truly believed that God was cackling maniacally while he pushed a big red button and dropped a bomb on our lives. I believed that, and it all started when I grumbled about the hand life had dealt me. 

So what do we do with that warning, and an understanding of the danger in grumbling? Again, John Haralson does a great job of addressing this in his sermon, but my second major takeaway was the practical, Biblical response to "lack" in our lives:

#2 - Lament is Biblical, and we are invited to command God to make things right.

This one was a little mind-blowing for me. So often, we respond to lack in our lives by trying to either 1) grumble as described above or 2) bury the discontentment in gratitude. I'm definitely guilty of the latter as well, and I'm guessing you've experienced it at some point in your own life, directly or indirectly: "Oh, yeah, things are bad, but they could by much worse. I have a lot to be thankful for. There are hungry kids out there, and people dying from terminal illness. I should be thankful to not having it as bad as they do. I'm blessed. God will use the bad stuff, and everything will be fine. "

Haralson points out that this approach is not a biblical response to suffering, and felt like doing a cartwheel when I heard him say so. Independent of suffering, sure! We're absolutely commanded to be grateful, and to praise God for the gifts He's given us. But the Book of Psalms alone is Biblical proof that we are meant to have a different response to suffering and discontentment.

40% of Psalms are psalms of lament. (Don't even get me started on this source's argument that churches aren't proportionally representing lament in their song selections. Totally different issue that makes my blood boil!) I already knew that lament was a prominent topic in the Bible, but what I hadn't considered was the specific language and posture that David used in his laments.

Let's take Psalm 59 for example. The very first line in this psalm, the FIRST thing that David says, is "Deliver me from my enemies." David straight-up commands God to take a messed up situation, and make it right. And David does this over, and over, and over again throughout Psalms.

That's our example. So how does that apply to real-life situations, the here and now?

When I think about my spiritual abuse and the ripple effects that continue to negatively impact our lives, this is how I would translate my "lack" into a lament to God:

God, that period of abuse messed up a lot of things in our lives. Years later, we still feel the pains of that season, and we still wrestle with its impact on our lives. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Make it right. Heal my own heart, so I don't fall into anger or bitterness. Heal Andrew. Show us how to trust you again. You are God, and you are the one who has to step in to fix what is broken in our world.

There is nothing wrong with that prayer. It is 100% theologically sound. I will say, though, that it's incomplete, because David always ends with an assurance of God's goodness and faithfulness. So after the above, I might close with this:

God, you delivered us through that season of suffering. You preserved our brand-new marriage, when the abuse and pain could have crushed us. You have used the junk of the last couple of years to produce fruit in our marriage, and in my professional life. I trust you to act again now. I trust that you will not abandon us, that You are a good and faithful God. I come to you in the name of your son Jesus, who continues to intercede on my behalf at your right hand. 

Bam. It's honestly earth-shattering for me, even as I write it out now, even though the Bible is packed with examples of this type of prayer! Even though it's laid out plain as day for me in scripture, I haven't ever consistently adhered to this posture of lament as I talk with God about the "lack" in my life.

Adhering to this model, however, has already proven to be cathartic and life-giving for my soul. I feel a release in giving my burdens to God, while also feeling energized and hopeful in remembering his past faithfulness, and trusting Him to follow through. The fruit is good, my friends. I invite you to explore your own posture in discussing your pain with God, and to approach Him as a good and generous Father who will always hear you.