We are all native speaking “Grumbletonians”, to borrow Joshua Rothman’s clever moniker.
It occurs to us, doesn’t it, to fuss and complain? To notice what’s wrong and to publicize it?
We come by it honestly, I suppose.
Our spiritual forebears introduced snark in some early Ancient Near Eastern episodes of Saturday Night Live as they “followed” Moses on their meandering way:
“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?
Founding Members of the National Sarcasm Society
They became founding members of the National Sarcasm Society with the motto, “like we need your support.”
It was their native tongue. To gripe. To murmur. To be serially ungrateful. To have viral suspiciousness of the motives of others, including of the God who had mysteriously rescued them.
And we come from the same spiritual gene pool.
We can go from zero to Grumbletonian in 3.6 seconds.
It’s too hot!
Those fools don’t know what they are doing!
She’s always on my case!
He’s so selfish...he never thinks of anyone but himself! (translation...he never thinks of me!)
Given these predilections for causing atmospheric smog that smothers care for others and the beneficence of God, it isn’t surprising that a remarkable letter written by a man unsure of his immediate fate in a Roman prison would urge that a primary way of carrying out our vocation of splendor in the world is relatively straightforward:
“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:12
“Murmur no more.”
Since we are all active volcanoes producing an atmospheric output, make sure what spews out of you helps others breathe, not choke.
Let the air waft with tenderness from your lungs. Let a criticism-refusing charity stream melodically from your lips in place of grumbly dirges.
The Pre-Requisite of Complaint
The Apostle knew what Wendell Berry gathered from experience and expressed so pointedly in Jayber Crow:
“He never complained. He had no instinct for the making much of oneself that complaining requires.”
In our native state, it’s as effortless as blinking for us to make much of ourselves, which explains our Grumbletonian fluency.
During Lent, it’s instructive in these matters to consider the 40 day wilderness wanderings of our Savior, deprived of rights, comforts, and privilege, as he was readied for a ministry of being misunderstood, maligned, and mocked.
Even still, he who “became what we are, so we could become what he is,” adamantly refused to make much of himself.
Instead of presuming to be the earth’s center, he centered himself on the fame of God and the benefit of others. Deciding to matter little, and to submit to God’s good governance much, he was content not only to be called a servant, but to be treated as one, too.
And of course the happy result of this was that he who mattered little to most, will one day matter most to all.
God, of course, promoted him who refused the God-equality symptom of making much of himself.
The Shriek of Grumbling
Grumbling however, shrieks conversely, as Paul Tripp and his herculean and unwieldy mustache reminds us, “I deserve better, and if I were in charge, I would do better.”
In other words. Grumbling is based on bad cosmology. Horrid theology. And defective personality---a condition which afflicts everyone with a navel.
It’s a clamor to be as God.
But we are not stuck in this condition.
We can co-labor with Christ who is producing a new breed of humanity with a sweet strain of speech.
His aspiration is that we would “shine like stars in the universe.”
The corny pick up line, “Darlin’ your daddy must’ve been a thief, ‘cause he took them stars and put ‘em in your eyes” is meant to be on display in those who have been invaded by Christ.
Our Father means for the splendor of the life of heaven to radiate in our words and deeds, in our industry and domesticity.
Round-Up for Communal Poison Ivy
And a lot of that shimmering, stand-out beauty will come from something as simple, and impossible, as holding our tongues.
When we grumble, we propagate communal poison ivy in our house. Everyone is infected and blistered by it.
But by holding our tongues, so as not to scorch one-another and denigrate God, we suffocate the vile, rash-producing, poisoned weeds in our places of work, play, living, and worship.
Social Media Under-Mining Advice
Our German anti-Grumbler instructor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in what was a prescient social-media undermining bit of advice, once suggested:
“Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can be overcome only by the Spirit of grace; nevertheless, isolated thoughts of judgment can be cured and smothered by never allowing them the right to be uttered, except as confession of sin…He who holds his tongue in check controls both mind and body (James 3:2 ff.).
Thus, it must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying (or tweeting! or posting!--my addition) much that occurs to him.”
So let’s try that.
Let’s try to talk much to Jesus about what ails us, and little about such things through our social megaphones of Facebook or Twitter. Let’s pay attention to our garden variety home-grumbling. And if we discover we’ve been making much of ourselves again, let us beware.
Of course, such restraint will require much active dependence on Christ and his grumble-dissolving mercy.
We’d better start now before a grumble pops out about just how impossible all this is to pull off!
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com