So we are almost two weeks into Lent, and while I’m not Catholic, which is to whom the “rules” of Lent really apply, I do like to recognize the Lenten season and try to make a conscious effort to give something up for Lent. Why? Because I think it’s a good practice in self-control, which is a character that all Christians are called to exhibit.
A few days before Ash Wednesday (start of Lent), I saw a Facebook poster that said something to the tune of “Stop complaining for 72 hours and see how God will work in your life.” And my immediate thought was “Whoa, for 72 hours!” But then again, it might have been just 24 hours, because I’ve tried looking for that post again, I’m seeing a lot of 24-hour posters. Whatever the number was, I remember thinking “that’s impossible.”
Which is ridiculous. There are people who fast from food for 40 hours on a regular basis (which has always impressed me--I start to get a headache after 6 hours without food), and here I was having a hard time imagining not complaining for 3 days. Or maybe just 1 day.
I don’t think people would describe me as a complainer (at least I hope not), but I think I was being very honest in realizing that it would be a big effort. Complaining is such a part of our culture. It’s almost like we’re happier when we have something to complain about then if something really was perfect. Or almost perfect. Or just nice. Like it’s more fun to complain about whatever little problem there is in something than it is to look past that thing and enjoy the experience. I think this is a casual, destructive habit that I’ve been prone to for a long time.
I’m also very subject to using negative hyperboles. “Ugh, there’s coconut in my mint chocolate chip milkshake, this is the worst!” (True story.) “You know what’s the worst thing ever? Running out of hot water 2 minutes before your shower is done.” (Probably have said that.) These statements are so lame. They make me look petty and ridiculous, and most of all, it is such a display of ingratitude.
So complaining and ingratitude are what I decided to tackle for Lent. And I am failing.
The first couple of days, I did better than I thought. When Josh got home and asked how Rye’s behavior was that day, I’d pause and think it over, and answer “today was difficult.” Because that is a true, factual statement. It’s OK to express when things are negative. It’s OK to say “I am very tired today.” It becomes complaining when you wallow in those negative statements, and it becomes “he was horrrrrible” or “I am exhauuuuuuusted.” Because Rye is a great kid, and unless he is willfully harming other people, he’s just having a difficult day (we’ve started the “Terrible Twos” a little early). And I might be tired, but that’s no reason to exaggerate or make it an end-of-the-world situation if Josh doesn’t get home until 10:30 p.m. I know he doesn’t want to work that late and he’s probably tired too.
But Lent is 40 days, plus those 6 Sundays that technically aren’t counted in Lent (does that mean it’s OK to complain on Sundays?), and 46 days is a long time when it comes to practicing something that is difficult. So I forget. I still catch myself thinking negative hyperboles and catching myself before I say or type them (which has uncoincidentally led to fewer Facebook posts). But complaints still come out, and I literally wince each time they do. It’s like my spirit knows I’ve committed to not complaining, but the heart and mouth are so hard to tame. I was going to start a money jar and make myself pay $1 for every complaint I uttered, but I was lazy and didn’t. I think I’m still under $10, but it’s only been about 2 weeks.
More than just what I say out loud, I’ve also been trying to cultivate a more grateful heart. I’d like to say I started a gratitude journal or something else concrete like that, but I haven’t (maybe next I need to work on laziness). I do think slowing down my speech has helped give more time for keeping thoughts in perspective, and showing gratitude for the many, many positives in my daily life.
Recognizing some negative things as facts has also been very freeing. You can’t just put a smiley face sticker on things that mess you up. But allowing yourself to label a situation as “frustrating” lets you validate your feelings without wallowing in them. And then you move on more quickly.
Five more weeks until Easter. And I’m going to keep working on this not complaining thing. If you catch me in failing, please point it out, because I really am trying to change.
"Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance." Eckhart Tolle (I don't know who this is but I liked the quote.)