From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 3 – Cultivate the attitude of thankfulness until it is a habit
If you complain habitually and tend to resent people then your very nature will become sour over time. The effect is very marked. The person becomes like sour milk. It affects them to their core, and a sense of grievance overtakes them. For example, I can think of a man who works at a garden centre near my house. Whenever I have been there he seems bitter, reluctant and uncooperative. On one occasion I overheard him speaking in a disparaging way about his boss, the proprietor of the garden centre. He was doing so in front of me, a customer. I don’t think he cared that I could hear him. In fact, the expression of his reservoir of resentments had become so normal for him that he probably didn’t even notice that he was doing it.
The net effect of it all was that he was obviously unhappy. Yet, what was the chain of causation? Was he bitter because of the circumstances of his life, or was his life the way it was because of his bitterness? It was probably both. That is where giving thanks can really change a person’s life. To give thanks to God, and also to express one’s gratitude to others, is not only a symptom of an already healthy heart-attitude. It is also the cause of it. In other words, we can cure ourselves of sourness, and even of selfishness, simply by learning to give thanks.
To complain is to lack gratitude
One of the things that most displeases God about complaining is that it indicates an underlying ingratitude. That is a very hurtful thing for anyone to have to deal with, even for God. Being a parent, and also running a business, has helped me to see why ingratitude is such a bad thing. It is a deep insult. It indicates that we care very little for the person whom we are failing to thank or appreciate. I did not properly appreciate, or thank, my parents when I was younger. Now that I have children myself, it gets to me if they take me for granted, or don’t appreciate what I do for them.
We all feel wounded when we are used, or taken for granted, by other people. That is especially so where we have gone out of our way to help and yet the other person seems only to be aware of what we didn’t do for them. People have often done that to me. However, I can’t easily condemn it, because I know that I have also done it to others. Even worse, I know that I have done it to God. And I’ve done it many times. I’d like to cut all complaining out of my life, but it isn’t easy. Even so, that should be our aim.
To complain is to lack understanding
Whenever we complain we also reveal the fact that we lack understanding and a sense of proportion. Firstly, we are failing to remember all those countless things that God has done for us, or which He has protected us from. It indicates that we are focused excessively on something else, that we wish was not happening, or that we lack, but forgetting everything that we do have. Or, at least, we are not keeping those good things in proper perspective and remembering them, even while we struggle with some difficulty.
I have noticed that I tend only to get irritated and moan about small things, i.e. just the little delays and minor disappointments of life. When I’ve had to face much bigger crises, blows and losses, I’ve usually been much calmer. It’s possibly because when I face major problems I remember to pray and seek God’s grace to help me to endure. But, when the problem is very minor, I tend to forget to pray. So, I am less likely to ask for His help and therefore have to deal with the problem on my own, in my own strength. That may explain some of it.