Being Thankful vs. Complaining

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about giving thanks, as well as its opposite, complaining. I don’t claim to be an expert on this; like I would guess everyone, I have done my fair share of complaining.

I think that a good place to start is to define complaining. Here are a few synonyms: expressing dissatisfaction; whining; grumbling. As an example of expressing dissatisfaction: when my son was little, he and I went to a fast-food joint with another dad and his son. The fries were not the freshest, but having spent five years in a Third World country, I thought they were fine. The other dad, however, returned the fries for fresh ones. I essentially give him a pass because he was a manager in the restaurant business! I’m pretty sure he had never spent time in a Third World country, either.

If you watched Saturday Night Live in its first decade, you’re probably familiar with the Whiners. You can see one of the skits here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH8yt71CDNU While we can laugh–and believe me, I do!–at the exaggerated whining, it illustrates the problem. Another example of exaggerated whining for the sake of humor is Weird Al Yankovic’s song First World Problems. The first three lines go like this:

“My maid is cleaning my bathroom, so I can’t take a shower
When I do, the water starts getting cold after an hour
I couldn’t order off the breakfast menu, ’cause I slept in till two”

Again, the song always makes me laugh, but also again, it illustrates the problem of whining!

On a more serious note, I like the word “grumbling” as a synonym of complaining. When you read the Old Testament, you frequently find the Israelites doing so, especially while they are in the wilderness. In Exodus 16:2-3, we read: “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'” Later, in Numbers 11:4-6, we read: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!'” Apparently, the Israelites had very short memories, reminiscing about the “good life” in Egypt, where they were slaves! And yet, how quick we are to complain about something as basic as the weather that the Lord gives us.

A friend of mine once said, “You can live either a life of thankfulness or complaining.” Yes; the antidote to complaining is being thankful. I was recently reading through Philippians and Colossians; in Philippians 4, as well as Colossians 1 and 2, I noticed the word “thank” or one of its variants, like “thanks,” “thankfulness,” and “thanksgiving,” at least once in every chapter. I kept going through Colossians 3 and 4, as well as the first three chapters of I Thessalonians, continuing to find “thank” or a variant of it. It wasn’t until I got to I Thessalonians 4 that I didn’t find it. Eight consecutive chapters where the Apostle Paul tells us to thank the Lord! There are many other examples in the New Testament. The Old Testament also has plenty of exhortations to give thanks, especially in the Psalms, which has been called “the hymnbook of the Old Testament Jews.” One of many examples is Psalm 107:3, which says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

How does this work in daily life? First of all, when we pray, do we come to the Lord with a list of requests? Do we habitually thank Him? Second, how do we react to problems? Let me illustrate with a story. A few years ago, I was driving my wife, son, and daughter to the airport when the car broke down. I managed to pull over to the side of the highway, and my son summoned an Uber. Within one minute–I’m not exaggerating–an Uber pulled up behind us, and we managed to squeeze three people and all their stuff into the small car, which promptly continued them on their way. Meanwhile, I waited ~45 minutes by the side of the road for a tow truck which had been summoned. The driver took me and my vehicle to my mechanic, and I got home by noon. I still had ample time to prepare for my class that night.

Was I thankful that my car had broken down and that I had to pay several hundred dollars for the tow and a new alternator, plus labor? Not exactly! However, here are several things I was thankful to the Lord for:

  • My son had the Uber app on his phone.
  • The Uber driver arrived almost immediately.
  • My wife, son, and daughter, plus all their stuff, fit into the small car.
  • They reached the airport with plenty of time to spare.
  • I was much closer to home than the airport, which greatly reduced the towing cost.
  • I got home in plenty of time to finish preparing for my evening class.
  • We had a second car that I could use to get to work.

In the immediacy of a problem, it can be hard to be thankful; however, when we think about it, it’s usually not difficult to find things to thank the Lord for. As we approach Thanksgiving, may we all have a thankful heart and express it. On that special day at our house, we go around the table, giving each person the opportunity to say at least one thing they’re thankful for. Over the years, we have also enjoyed having people from outside our family join us. Maybe there’s someone you know who would really appreciate being part of your Thanksgiving celebration.

Have a very blessed Thanksgiving!

6 thoughts on “Being Thankful vs. Complaining

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