I was hanging out with someone lately and realized that they didn’t complain about anything for an entire hour. Do they not live in Philadelphia and understand??? They didn’t point out how many times I expressed dissatisfaction but I began to reflect. I complain often. I think I complain too often. I might even be complaining that I complain so much.
I think there are lots of reasons to express concern, anger, suffering, and a host of other emotions or observations about situations. I also want to let God touch my heart in my dissatisfaction so that my expressions do not get stuck in mere smack-talking, hatin’, or complaining. I got to go on a three-night hike recently. I used it as a retreat. Here are some experience, questions, and lessons I’ve been sitting with since.
Experiences, part I:
Here were some other obstacles to overcome/suffer through/complain about during the first couple of days: My minivan (RIP Midnight Teal) broke down 15mi from the trailhead. Getting to the trial had increased obstacles besides needing to figure out how to get 4+hrs back home.The weather was wet and cold. The sun didn’t shine for more than 2min until the final morning. The temperature got into the 50s once. One day I walked slightly uphill on a flooded rocky path (now a tiny creek) for about four hours straight. The trail offered low visibility, the mountain laurels crowded most of the trail.
When is a good time to quit? It was hard going and I didn’t see any relief coming. I have several friends in the process of getting divorced right now, having quit or quitting in some way. When is it time to quit? A few tough days are hardly as bad as being conflicted for years, of course, but when could it be time to turn around and say “I’m going to take a hot bath and order pizza now” rather than doing this low tech/no tech time in the wilderness with little escape opportunities from the moment?
I think quitting can be a good option sometimes. We get ourselves unconsciously tangled up with people, ideologies, habits, economic systems, etc that harm us/community/creation. When you are digging yourself a hole, the first advice is to stop digging. Whether you are wondering about terminating a relationship, quitting a job, dropping out of school, leaving the church/faith (I’ve done all of the above at some point), you identify a point that is “too far” and press the red button.
Experiences, part II:
Then the rain stopped. The trail opened up from thickage to open ravines and the trail went both up and down until a ridge. That became the best ridge walk of my life. During several sections, you could see both valleys – as the Appalachian mountains roll in a few lines there. I encountered Big Schloss – my favorite Schloss, I might add – one of the best panoramic vistas on the East Coast on a cool rock formation. The sun was shining when I awoke the final morning, and sorting out transport back to Philadelphia was simpler and easier than I feared.
I got back in time to do some worshipping with my congregation. Sarah White gave some inspiring invitations from Jesus as antidotes to the demand we sense. Gillian had us lighting candles and telling of how God has provided for us – another antidote to demand. Cameron’s team led heartfelt singing – holding out lines like “Let my life be a motion of love,” “All of my help comes from You,” “How great You are,” and “You remain.” We shared the communion meal and I knew then that I was at home with Jesus. I was at home with who I really am, where my deepest convictions begin, and my greatest inspiration gets birthed from.
When we are in the stranded cold/wet/boring uphill climbs of life, our memory often gets short. Our suffering at the moment shapes our senses and changes our memories. We can sometimes hardly remember not suffering, like how I feel when I have a nagging cold (when was I ever healthy? What did it even feel like not to cough every few seconds?). When we suffer, we can allow our circumstances, our pain, and our limits to shape how we live – rather than those inspirations and convictions. We probably quit too soon on a lot of things, like flipping through the channels on cable or watching portions of 10 Youtube videos in a row. When life is hard, I need to remember how God has provided for me. When life is hard, I need to remember that circumstances will change – maybe even sooner than I expect.
Maybe I don’t actually complain too much, but just too much to others. Maybe I should save more of my complaints for God who offers spiritual medicine. Maybe my heart will be healed enough every day to be able to fight the good fight out of my healing, inspiration, and conviction rather than get it too mixed up with my dissatisfaction. Maybe I can train my mouth to reflect the gratitude and wonder I feel in my deeper parts more and my agitations less. It might actually make me more open to joy.