A guy in my morning exercise class, whenever he’s asked, “How are you?” often responds, “Can’t complain. No one wants to hear it anyway.” He’s right, of course. We don’t want to hear other people’s complaints. We have enough of our own.
Take the weather, for example: Too hot. Too cold. Too wet. Too dry. Or the government: Too big, too involved, or too controlling. Except when we want highway potholes fixed, relief following disasters, or various services provided when we need them. Then we can’t get enough government.
We complain when our favorite teams and players under-perform. We complain when spouses, family members and friends fail to meet our expectations. We complain when we go shopping: Unable to find a sales associate when we need one. Or feeling harassed when a sales associate hovers nearby. (Admittedly a rare occurrence these days.)
We complain about aches and pains, major and minor. Especially as we get older. It’s almost a contest: “Any complaint you can make, I can make better!”
Even at church we complain: The music’s too fast, too slow, too loud, too contemporary, too old. The sermon wasn’t entertaining enough. Not enough multi-media to hold our attention. The service ran too long, disrupting our mealtime plans. And when we do go out to dinner, we complain about the food and the service.
So it surprised me recently when I spotted a sign in an antique store that read:
“Too blessed to complain.”
|Even at its best, this life leaves us discontented,|
feeling like there should be more.
When was the last time you felt that way? Have you ever felt that way? In our society, discontent is viewed as a virtue. Marketing people make it their solemn duty to keep us dissatisfied with what we have and where we go. According to them, nothing can be worse than status quo. So it seems unnatural to feel “too blessed to complain,” doesn’t it?
To the contrary, the motto of our materialistic world is, “too much is never enough.” No matter how much we’ve got, we can always complain about wanting or needing more.
This is one reason I’ve marveled at the apostle Paul’s declaration: “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 3:11-12).
This is a striking statement, particularly when you consider where he was writing from – prison. No “woe is me”; no “life isn’t fair”; no “why me and not so-and so?” How could Paul avoid grumbling and complaining in confinement? How could he claim to be “content” in jail?
The secret, I believe, was his perspective. Paul remembered what life was like before encountering Jesus Christ, and knew his life with Christ was far better. Even though “before” he had been somewhat of a religious celebrity, and “after” he was treated as a pariah by the religious establishment. Paul recalled during his self-righteous, zealous persecution of those that followed Jesus, his victims demonstrated an inner peace he’d never known – until he, too, met Jesus.
Paul understood by refusing to complain, followers of Christ set themselves apart from people around them. That’s why he wrote, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation” (Philippians 2:14-15).
And Paul knew that no matter how bad his life on earth got, another life – a far better life beyond comprehension or imagination – awaited him. So, most likely the apostle often thought, even if he might not have used the exact words, he was “too blessed to complain.”