Every parent has probably experienced what can sometimes feel like incessant whining and complaining coming from their children. In this time of social distancing, extra “togetherness” can provoke this even more. Our children’s whole lives have been turned upside down; for months, there has been no school, no church, no events.
This understandably brings about anxiety, discontent, and grumbling. They are sick of being around their siblings and parents nearly all the time with almost no breaks. They are sick of being in the same house. They are sick of the only opportunities for interaction and learning being on screens (thank goodness iPad school is over for now, is all I have to say). They don’t fully comprehend why nothing’s the same anymore, and they don’t know when things will go back to normal.
Wait… adults complain a lot too
This is starting to sound a whole lot like my own feelings, and I suspect the feelings of many other adults as well. Although whining might seem especially irritating coming from our kids, the truth is, most adults struggle with discontent and complaining too. How should we deal with these negative emotions? Should we sweep them under the rug, bury them inside, try to ignore the fact that life contains many challenges and irritations? Or should we air our grievances to anyone who will listen, regularly post complaints on social media, and allow negativity and dissatisfaction to take over our lives?
A Negative Example- The Grumbling Israelites
The Israelites were notorious for their complaining and grumbling after the Lord delivered them from Egypt. The complaining started almost immediately and never stopped for long: when they saw the Egyptian army pursuing them before they crossed the Red Sea (Ex. 14:10-12); when they couldn’t find drinkable water in the wilderness (Ex. 15:22-24, and 17:1-3); when they were hungry (Ex. 16:2-3); when they were tired of dealing with their problems (Num. 11:1); when they were sick of the food that God provided for them (Num. 11:4-6); when they came to the Promised Land and saw the fortified cities and strong inhabitants (Num. 14:1-4); when they rebelled against Moses and Aaron’s leadership (Num. 16), and many other examples. Despite their grumblings, forgetfulness, and lack of faith, God mercifully provided for their needs. Sometimes, their complaints brought about God’s anger and judgement, and Moses interceded for the people several times so as to escape complete destruction.
Positive Examples- David, Habakkuk, Job, and Lamentations
But there are examples of acceptable ways to bring our complaints to God, too. The Psalms are full of laments, sorrow, and grief. In Psalm 13, David expresses feelings of complete abandonment by God. But he ends with praise, saying that he will trust in God’s steadfast love and rejoice in his salvation. Habakkuk consists of the prophet’s complaints to the Lord because of what he saw as an apparent lack of justice and God allowing sin to go unpunished. The book begins with the same question David asks in Psalm 13: “How long, O Lord?” Throughout the book, he comes to trust in God’s sovereignty and wisdom, and again ends with wording very similar to David- “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18).
The book of Job gives us another example of someone who expressed strongly-worded emotions to God about his suffering. Job himself even calls them “complaints” repeatedly in the ESV version of the Bible (Job 7, 10, 21, 23). But he was still considered righteous because of his service and faith in God during his time of hardship, despite the extreme frustration and anguish that he brought before God. Lamentations is, predictably, a whole book of laments concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, but the Lord’s steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness are emphasized (Lam. 3:22-24), as well as His eternal reign and the hope of restoration (Lam. 5).
So what do we do?
I get so weary of my childrens’ complaints that my instinct has become to immediately scold them and stop them from expressing negative emotion. But the fact is, the emotions are there; we cannot ignore them and expect them to disappear. We need to find an appropriate way to deal with them.
I believe the many accounts of complaints and laments in the Bible teach us that God can handle our questions, sorrows, fears, and distress. However, the way we do it, and our attitude towards God, is of the utmost importance. In each positive example we looked at above, the conclusion is that, when all else fails, when our lives are in ruins, when we are threatened, persecuted, or suffering… we can trust in God’s faithfulness, love, sovereignty, and wisdom. We can trust in God because of who He is; not because of what he does for us. (Read Job 38-41 for a magnificent speech by God, detailing his power and sovereignty, emphasizing that humans could never fully understand the ways of God; take note that after Job submits to God and repents, he finds comfort in God before his time of suffering is ended).
And even if we lose our lives, our God is a God of salvation. If we have put our trust in him as our savior, we will be with him for eternity after we physically die here on earth, with the hope of a bodily resurrection after the return of Christ. Job also alluded to this, saying in Job 19:25, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” No matter how bad life gets, we always have something to rejoice in, which turns out to be the most important thing of all- the steadfast love and salvation of God.
The antidote- thankfulness and focus on God
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6 to bring our anxieties, prayers, and requests to God, with thanksgiving. God wants us to bring our needs and emotions to him, and the reason we can be thankful is because we know God is sovereign, wise, and loving in all his ways, even when we cannot understand his ways. Earlier in Philippians, Paul cautions us against grumbling, so as to not be like the crooked and twisted generation of Israelites (Phil. 2:14). We must be careful to not be characterized by having a complaining spirit, one who forgets God’s deliverance, power, and promises.
I am trying to practice allowing my kids to express their discontent and negative feelings for a short time, then guiding them back to think of the positive aspects of a certain situation, and list things to be thankful for. I think we as adults can follow a similar process in our own lives. While discussions with others about situational concerns are important and necessary, we should do so respectfully and pay attention to our attitudes. Regularly complaining to others, either in person or on social media, reflects a heart that is not focused on thankfulness for God’s provision and blessings. Instead, we should take our questions, frustrations, and complaints to our all-powerful, all-wise God, and then choose to rest in His plan and salvation.