By David Hegg
Forgive me for being intentionally redundant as I know I’ve mentioned this sentiment previously. You don’t need 20/20 sociological vision to see how complaining has become one of our nation’s favorite, yet most destructive pastimes. Yes, we’re a tough people and we’ve long appreciated a thoughtful, balanced and incisive critique, and even the necessary complaints that accompany such reasoned and rational reflection. But folks, it has gotten completely out of hand!
We’ve become a nation of softies, spoiled brats who believe our mere existence entitles us to these two things. First, we get the life we want, and everyone else — especially the government! — is responsible to provide it. Second, we get to sound off and complain using all manner of malice and mean-spirited invective whenever our wants have gone unmet in even the smallest way. While we often admit we’re not perfect — the spontaneous response when we’re found wanting — we expect perfection from the world around us and everyone in it when it comes to making our lives perfect. Pretty warped, not to mention absurd and impossible.
Here’s the deal: If your joy and happiness are dependent on life going your way, and everyone in it treating you like the superstar you imagine yourself to be, you better be sitting down when you read the next line. Spoiler alert: It’ll never happen, and if you thinking it should, you’re a self-centered, arrogant, deluded person just like the rest of us. You’ve bought the lie peddled by those whose advertisements advance the fairy tale that this world owes you happiness, and that you should complain whenever you don’t get your fair share.
But the truth is, real meaning, purpose and joy in this life are actually built with the stuff of contentment. Happiness never grows in the mixed soil of entitlement, self-pity and incessant complaint. Happiness is a function of delighting in what we do have, not what we think we’re missing. And, pursuing true contentment even in times of adversity is actually the exercise that strengthens our ability to persevere through trials in a way that builds character and moral strength. If we put the energy we use to complain into seeking contentment instead, we will find our lives are improved in ways we may never have considered.
The Apostle Paul knew something about prizing contentment over complaint when he was writing his letter to the Philippian church in the New Testament. He spoke of his own joy and called his readers to rejoice even though at the time he was a Roman prisoner, left to provide his own food, clothing and medical treatments. As any history student knows, being a prisoner of Rome was anything but comfortable.
Yet, Paul looked beyond his circumstances and discovered contentment rather than complaint was the only way to make sense of what every day brought him. He told his readers he had “found the secret” of being content in whatever circumstances surrounded him. What was it? Simply this: He realized his life was not about what happened to him but was about God’s purpose for his being alive in the first place. He was committed to something bigger than personal circumstances regardless of how adverse they were. He found contentment in the fact that, even as a prisoner, the grand purpose of his life — the proclamation of the Good News found in Jesus — was being accomplished. If you want the whole story, you can read Philippians.
As we continue through this Christmas season, it is my prayer that you will find ways to take a detour from the highway of complaint to travel the much more satisfying road of contentment. Set your sights on the grand purposes of this life, of the privilege of loving and serving others, rather than fixating on your own desires.
After all, the essence of Christmas is realizing that our greatest satisfaction is not found in living selfishly, but in imitation of the Christ Child who came to Earth for us, that we might find eternal contentment in his offer of eternal life.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.