You know those times when you know you’re supposed to be thankful but there’s nothing to be grateful about?
And at the end of a no-good rotten day where everything goes wrong and nothing will be right ever again…isn’t there something so satisfying about giving in to the negative thoughts you’ve worked so hard to push aside and bask in all your self-righteous “why me” glory?
After a good pity party I wonder why I cycle like this. Why is it so difficult to be grateful for what I have instead of focusing on what’s wrong and what I lack?
I have a friend who is never negative. Not ever. No matter what happens she has something positive to say about her situation.
It drives me crazy.
On one hand I think it’s great she can find something good to say about everything in life—not many of us have that skill. On the other hand you can’t go around avoiding the negative just because it’s negative. Bad things happen. You have to acknowledge it or you’re not living in reality.
But, I’m learning, you don’t have to complain about it.
Chuck Swindoll takes a direct look at this in his sermon It’s Time to Celebrate—Not Complain. Based on the Israelite’s experience of wandering through the desert found in Numbers 10–12, he highlights five main reasons we complain.
- We complain because we have formed the habit of fussing
- We complain because we are not trusting God to provide
- We complain because we listen to others who are complaining
- We complain because we are focused on what we don’t have
- We complain because we are not grateful for what God has provided
Popular blogger and leadership speaker Michael Hyatt has an interesting perspective on complaining. He doesn’t suggest avoiding or over-spiritualizing negative situations like many of us would be tempted to do. Instead he suggests asking ourselves a question when something negative happens: What does this experience make possible?
Asking this kind of question not only banishes self-pity and complaints from your demeanour but it forces you to confront the situation, look at it head-on, and see the good that can come from it.
Could this be my friend’s approach? Perhaps she sees what’s possible in spite of the negative. Maybe it’s me who has the problem—I mean, I’m sitting here complaining because she isn’t complaining.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a good friend who is not a believer. She asked me why Christians seem to question their faith when they face hard times.
My hunch is many people have an unspoken belief the Christian life means freedom from pain and hardship—so then when trials come (not “if they come” but “when”) they’re left confused and conflicted.
“This isn’t what I signed up for! Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Faith is not a free pass from hard times. In fact, it’s ridiculous to think there’s a magic cure-all protector bubble you can jump into to shield yourself from life. So how should we react to hard times? Be thankful. But don’t take it from me—go to the source.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:2–8 The Message)
Consider challenges a sheer gift. This is the only way you won’t question your faith when things go sideways. This is the only way you will be able to avoid complaining, whining, and feeling sorry for yourself when life gets tough. This is the only way you can praise the Lord with all your heart when nothing makes sense and everything goes wrong.
As Thanksgiving approaches I challenge you to think about all the blessings you do have…and praise God for the hardships you’re facing as well. Ask yourself: what does this experience make possible? Write out your answers and revisit them whenever you feel like there’s nothing to be thankful for. See where it takes you.