The Dance of Complaint
Words by Autumn Kern
Image by Ethan Jago
Whenever a friend asked about my last pregnancy, I rarely knew how to respond. My answer was a dance of sorts; I’d complain about my nausea or the physical pain of my separating pelvis and then twirl without pause to comment on a good gift to lessen the weight of my complaint. Well, I’m still best friends with the toilet, but my baby is healthy, so I’m not complaining. It was almost rhythmic: complaint, but there’s this, so no complaint. Step. Twirl. Step.
Complaining is an issue of the heart, not necessarily the words spoken about one’s situation. We can share something difficult, and we can lament; we can also whine, grumble, and complain. There were times when I honestly answered about the difficulties in my pregnancy, and it was just sharing with a friend. But there were other times when I tried to hide my temper tantrum about my situation by giving a nod to something good.
Christians know we’re not supposed to complain about what we don’t have. But is it any better not to complain just because of what we do have?
The choice not to complain has nothing to do with our circumstances—both what we have and what we don’t—but everything to do with the One telling us not to complain (Phil 2:14–15). We miss the point by pairing our complaints with the good things we can see. This isn’t the way to a humble, grateful heart. But knowing the God of Scripture is.
God is Infinite
God is infinite: he’s without beginning or end, he’s unrestrained by geography or location; and all that he is, he is in endless measure—in wisdom, mercy, kindness, faithfulness, love, and grace. His power and rule is unquestionable and perfectly executed.* He’s the standard of all goodness, the epitome of all goodness, the storehouse of all goodness; and his goodness is directed in all things towards those who love him.
When we complain, we complain directly against God. We may mutter about dishes left in the sink again, the traffic making us late for work, or the neighbor’s loud music waking the baby, but our words betray our hearts: God isn’t good to me through this. We may quickly add we’re grateful to have dishes, a job, or a baby, but our words reveal a misstep: God isn’t good to me through this, but I guess he was good to me in that, so I’ll keep quiet on this one.
God is good to us through all things—not because of the circumstances, but because of who he is. We may struggle to understand how glory comes from trials and suffering, but God says he can and will make it happen (Rom. 8:28–29; James 1:2–4). Because he is infinite, he’s able to do what he promises, and he will do what he promises (Ps. 115:3).
God is Sovereign
God is sovereign over all things—our normal days, salvation, seemingly random moments, the weather, powerful leaders, evil things, relationships, life and death.** He’s the rightful ruler of his creation, but it’s more than just his ability to rule (which he can do); it’s that he should rule (Gen. 1:1). Because his position is his based on right and ability, it’s to our great delight that he sovereignly cares for his creation and people.
Even more, he’s not a far-off ruler, unaware of the particulars of our situations or unconcerned about us individually. He intimately cares about his people, including one’s chronic illness, toddler’s tantrums, and lost keys. He understands our weakness and promises his grace is sufficient for all things (2 Cor. 12:9). Before he laid the foundations of the earth, he lovingly planned to work all things for the good of those who love him by bringing about a glorious, perfect ending in which he will live with his people.*** If every part of our lives is used to that end—even when we can’t imagine how it could be done—then every part of our lives is under the control of God to his glory and for our good.
God is Faithful
God is faithful to his people and his plans (2 Tim. 2:13). With his infinite wisdom, he rules creation as he intends, moving all things—including us—towards his new heaven and new earth. His plans can’t be destroyed, redirected, or changed by outside forces or difficult circumstances (Job 42:2). He sees everything and is surprised by nothing (Job 28:24).
But we’re surprised by things. We’re blindsided when we lose our jobs, struggle to connect in relationships, or suffer during pregnancy. If we were sovereign over our lives, we’d probably never allow anything from an inconvenience to a hardship to happen to us. But God’s plan is to do a new thing; he’s making us holy like he is holy, removing sin fully from our hearts so we can one day live with him in glory (2 Cor. 5:17). His faithfulness is steadfast to the work he began in us and in creation (Phil. 1:6). The things we complain about are the very tools used by God to complete the work in us. He can’t be unfaithful to himself, so he can’t be unfaithful to us.
No Cause for Complaint
Complaining in any form—even in light of what we do have—makes us familiar to the broken world; bitterness, entitlement, and selfishness find a sympathetic ear with those who don’t know God. But imagine the stark difference of someone who doesn’t complain. Why don’t they complain? Don’t they want parts of their lives to be different? How can they be content in this world? How can they be sure of the future?
And pairing a complaint to a good thing is still, at its root, complaining.
When we better know God in his ways, our complaints fall away. We’ll shine as lights in a world of darkness; we’ll look different to those we meet (Prov. 3:3–5, Phil 2:14–15). We’re a rescued people in a story with a known ending (John 1:12–13). We have no care too big or problem too overwhelming for who he is (1 Pet. 5:7). And when we forget (which we will), we can look to Jesus to see God’s infinite, sovereign, and faithful care for us. If he gave us his Son to make us his own, will he not continue to care for us perfectly (Rom. 8).
Even though we’ll struggle not to complain, we can cling to the grace which transforms our complaining to gratitude in increasing measure.
Grace quiets complaints. It once shone light into our dark hearts and transformed us into new people. It made us lovely in the midst of a crooked generation, and it made a way for us to know God in increasing measure. And it’s the same grace that’s changing us from dancing complainers to steadfast worshippers.
This post originally appeared on Carbon Ribs.
*Gen. 21:33; Ps. 113:4–6; Ps. 145:3; Is. 40:15; Rom. 11:33; Eph. 1:23; Rev. 1:8
**Deut. 32:39; Prov. 16:33; Prov. 19:21; Is. 45:70; Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 1:11; James 4:13–15
***Rom. 8:28–29; Eph.1:3–4; Rev. 21:3–5