The Key of Gratitude, Part 3: Releasing Complaint
Gratitude opens our eyes and gives us sight. With a grateful heart, we see what is rather than what is not. Thanksgiving, as an attitude of the heart, is something that cleans the fogginess that can obscure our vision … our ability to see God in us, around us, and in others. But, gratitude can be hard to come by.
One of the heart postures that can create fog is complaint. When things are hard, we often feel complaint arising in our hearts. We can complain about anything when we’re in a complaining mood. A sunny day can be too hot. A beautiful snowfall can “ruin” our plans for travel. A little deeper, perhaps, is that complaint can become a lens through which we look at life. When things don’t happen the way I want them to happen … when things don’t turn out the way I’d expect … when things aren’t fair or just, complaint can be our “go to.” It can be our interpretive lens.
To be sure, there are things that are hard and painful and fearful and unjust. The challenge is that complaint is an interaction with those hard realities of life that is based on me … my perspective, my expectations, my ideas, and my preferences. To drill a little deeper, complaint is usually centered around the perceived loss of my independence … my ability for self-determination.
The solution, however, is not denial or dismissal. It is not acting like hurts and losses are not a big deal. It is not necessarily about “thinking positively.” When things are hard, we have an invitation from God into a kind of prayer called lament. Lament is a prayer that cries out to God with all the emotion and pain that one is feeling: God, how long? Will you abandon me forever? (Ps 13) or My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Ps 22) or My enemies surround me (Ps 27).
Whereas complaint focus on me and my loss of independence, lament focus on God and our cries of dependence. God, I need you. I am desperate without you. As the people of Israel moved toward the promised land in the Old Testament scriptures, there were told that it was a land flowing with milk and honey (to put it in New Testament terms: an abundant life). What the people of Israel misunderstood is that both milk and honey were items that were provided by God. Milk was dependent on there being rains that gave the goats plenty of grass to eat so that they would produce lots of milk. Honey was something that would be “found” in trees and places where bees were thriving because of a healthy environment. The land of Palestine was/is a land dependent upon the fickle rains that may or may not come. Milk and honey are symbols of dependence.
As the people of Israel were travelling to this land, they complained about the food God provided each day (the manna). Rather than a grateful heart that came from dependence, they had complaining hearts fueled by entitlement and a sense of what they deserved. A dependent life didn’t feel so good and so they complained. Their complaints were not so much God directed as self-focused. And when complaint was the lens through which they viewed life, they actually told God they wanted to go back into slavery in Egypt because “at least the food tasted better.” (paraphrase from Numbers 11:4-6) Imagine that, thinking that being enslaved was better because the food tasted better. That is what complaint does to us. It colors our perception and spirals our thoughts into darkness.
However, lament, which is invited by God, has a way of transforming us and enlightening our eyes. In Psalm 13, the Psalmist even prays “enlighten my eyes.” It is a prayer of dependence and just a few verses later, it is written, “I have trusted in your steadfast love … I will sing to the Lord.” To be sure, lament is not magic – it doesn’t necessarily offer an instant transformation into seeing sunny skies where clouds are. However, it does transform … sometimes slowly and sometimes more quickly as we take our lives to God in prayer and dependence.
Lament changes us because it enables a shift from independence to dependence which is another one of our “default settings” as humans. We are dependent beings and when we are living dependently, we live freely and lightly. We experience gratitude and grace, and as thanksgiving is on our lips (even through tears and hard times) we see Him. We experience God.
What would it be like for you to release complaint today and instead come to God with a prayer of lament? Lament can be gritty and messy but it is invited by God. He doesn’t ask us to deny the hard things or ignore them but to bring them to Him in dependence and surrender. Whereas complaint centers around being independent, lament deepens our dependence as we place our hope in God.
And, the release and freedom we find in lament leaves us thankful.