The past few weeks, I've been mapping out some goals and plans for 2018. I'm excited about this season in life and excited about what I hope to get done over the next stretch of time. One of my goals is to live out Paul's words in Philippians 2:14. It's easy to grasp but difficult to do.
"Do all things without grumbling or disputing."
With the news cycle constantly serving up new fodder, it is easy to fall into a pattern of grumbling. Ministry is tough. Burnout can be real. When relationships are strained, when things get overwhelming, when uncertainty looms, griping and moaning can become a default response. It's a quick dopamine hit with long-lasting negative impact.
"To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” (Frederick Buechner)
Grumbling, or murmuring, is not the same thing as a complaint. A complaint can be useful, provided a few things- A) That you direct towards the actual person that can do something about it/is the source of your frustration. B) That you know what you are actually frustrated about. C) That you're willing to consider you don't have all of the information and are willing to pivot your interpretation.
Grumbling is different. It isn't really looking for resolution, it's looking for affirmation. For others to pity you or agree with you and share your frustration. Grumbling doesn't bring the complaint directly to the source, it multiplies the frustration among others. It multiplies the frustration in you. It leads to drawing wrong conclusions, making bad decisions, and furthering dissatisfaction. James describes the compounding effect that a loose tongue can have:
"The tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire".
When Paul uses the word 'grumbling' in Philippians 2:14, he is pointing back to the people of Israel in the book of Numbers. They had just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, witnessing God do great things there. Now they were in the 'in between' and starting to have doubts. They grumbled openly against God (Numbers 11), against their leader Moses (Numbers 12 and 16), and about their situation (Numbers 13 and 14). We can learn a few things about grumbling from the Israelites here.
Grumbling often arises when you are uncertain. The Israelites literally said it would better to go back and be slaves in Egypt than it would to take one more step towards a promising but uncertain future. It is so easy for us to want to run back to our defaults even when we know there is nothing for us back there. Better the devil you know... When you lose sight of the vision and mission of your life, it's easy to spend that energy sideways on grumbling rather than forward on action. Solomon once wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
Grumbling often arises when you are afraid. The Israelites heard about the 'giants' in the land and rather than own their fear or dare to trust in God, they lied and exaggerated about the land and blamed the leaders for their poor leadership. (Numbers 13:31-32) Fear makes us do a lot of crazy things, we hate not being in control. It's much easier to blame others than to own our fears.
Grumbling often arises when you are overwhelmed. I can't imagine the head-spinning that was going on for the Israelites. They had left the comfort of what they knew, were living day by day by the provision of God, and now the destination they were promised was occupied by a seemingly unconquerable foe. They had traveled long and hard only to be met with perceived disaster. In moments of being overwhelmed, rather than taking stock and coming up with an actionable plan, it's easy to just shut down and groan.
The key to controlling your grumbling is not to beat yourself when you slip up, but to slow down and notice what is going on. What are you afraid of? Where are you feeling overwhelmed? Out of control? Unclear about? The more you reflect on this, you might find out that the actual source of your grumbling is you. not the object of your frustration.
It does no good to murmur to everyone about your frustrations. In fact, it often makes it worse because you are spreading the discord. Rather than murmur all over the place, find a trusted friend to process with that has your permission to challenge your perspectives, ask probing questions, and encourage you to make progress.
I'm preaching to myself here. This is one of my goals for 2018. A few more quotes to drive it home:
"We cannot control our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them." -Epictetus
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -Victor Frankl