What we do now affects our future.

Whole books and movies, TV shows, plays, poems, and philosophy classes have been dedicated to those seven little words.

Most of us recognize them as true, at least from an intellectual standpoint, but are we living them right now?

2020 has been hard. I don’t think anyone would dispute that.

But when we focus on memes and graphics like this:
or this:

What does that really say about us?

Complaining is a favourite Canadian pastime. We complain about sports teams, politics, the weather. Much as we might complain about something, if that thing were different,  we probably would somehow manage to complain about it too.

Let’s take the weather, for example:

If it’s hot:
“It’s too hot! I can’t stand being outside for more than 10 minutes!”

If it’s cold:
“I’m freezing! I hate winter!”

If it’s snowy:
“I hate shovelling my driveway! I’ve got to wait for the bus in this?”

If it’s rainy:
“It’s so gloomy out! I lost my umbrella!”

If it’s not rainy:
“My garden is dying!”

Yes, staying inside is hard. Yes, we now realize how good our lives were before. But when we go back to the way things were, will we be any more grateful for them then? Or, will we find new things to complain about?

If I had to guess, I’d say that we might be more grateful for a week or two, but then the complaining would start up again, worse than ever.

Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that something is hard. But there is something wrong with focusing on our problems without elevating our gaze to the One who provides for us even when we’re in the midst of suffering.

It’s not a sin to suffer. It’s not a sin to need support. But much as the world might tell us so, support does not have to take the form of mutual complaint.

You see, complaining at its root is ingratitude. It might be cute. It might even be funny. But it is a sin.

  • When we complain about having to stay inside our houses for a while, what does that say to the people who have no houses?
  • When we complain about not being able to go to a movie or favourite restaurant, what does that say to the person who’s lived every day of her life in a garbage dump, sifting through other people’s refuse for every single meal?
  • When we complain about living through this year, what does that say to the person whose toddler died at the end of last year?
  • When we complain about the government penalizing those who break social distancing protocols, what does that say to the person whose government cares not a whit about him, and instead uses his body and soul to feed their own depraved and evil schemes?

When we complain about our current circumstances, we are basically saying to God, “You’re not taking care of me!” Our complaints are really accusations against our Heavenly Father.

I’m all for spiritual honesty with Jesus. At times we might feel broken and abandoned. We might need to lay it all out on the table, to rant at the ceiling, to cry and release the stress of the suffering we’re encountering.

But when we make the wilful choice to build a sense of community through complaining, when we refuse to leave behind our grumbling in favour of gratitude, there’s something fundamentally wrong with our decision-making and attitudes.

It’s not a virtue to be a victim. [1] Don’t let the allure of that label suck you into mental illness. It may seem to give you an excuse for bad behaviour, to let you off the hook of responsibility for your actions, but it will suck you down. If you embrace it, you will give up the glorious future that Jesus wants for you.

The “joy, the freedom of the mind” that Madame Guyon wrote about is real. It is possible. You can experience it even in the midst of suffering. It can be your companion, whether you’re bedridden, quarantined, imprisoned, or slaving away at a job you hate.

There’s something about gratitude that renews the mind and spirit. It’s hard to be resentful for something when you’re somehow thankful for it.

No matter the situation, there’s always something we can be thankful for. If I’m bedridden, I can still be grateful for the window that shows me the sun each day. If I’m experiencing a variety of health problems that all involve pain, I can be grateful for those body parts that aren’t in pain. (For me, last winter, it was my toes!) If I’ve lost my job, I can be grateful for the love and support of family and friends. If I’ve been abused, I can be grateful for the dozens of non-abusive relationships I have. If my spouse is sick, I can be grateful that he still has access to healthcare.

So, rather than training ourselves to default to ingratitude and complaint, let’s take this time to relearn the skill of thankfulness. Let’s sit in the presence of our Heavenly Father and ask Him to enable our eyes to see the dozens, hundreds, and thousands of things we still have to be grateful for.

If you’ve ever been stargazing, you’ll know that at first, as you stare up at the sky, you can only see the brightest stars. As you continue to look, though, the sky seems to become brighter and brighter. When your eyes have fully adjusted to the darkness, you can see far more. You realize that before, you were almost blind to the wonders of the heavens. In the same way, the longer we stare towards gratitude, the more we see. It could be as simple as a leaf, or a frog, or a flower. It could be as massive as His love.

There is always something.



NOTES

[1] Brian G. Mattson, "Victimhood is Not a Virtue," Journal of Christian Legal Thought 8, no. 2 (2018): 17.

Picture sources: 2020 meme 1, 2020 meme 2, top picture