Monday, October 18, 2010

Painting and complaining - In Other Words

The spirit of complaint is born out of an unwillingess to trust God with today.  Like the Israelites, it means you are spending your time looking back toward Egypt, or wishing for the future, all while missing what God is doing right now." ... Priscilla Shirer

The church basement was gloomy and the corner kitchen was dark and dreary - not exactly the kind of place that was likely to foster lively fellowship.  After several months of struggling to host after service get-to-gethers in this dank atmosphere, some of us decided to pitch in and repaint the kitchen to try to liven up the surroundings.  On the agreed upon day only two of us showed up to do the actual work.  (Sound like any church projects you have ever been involved in?)

I was happy that the committee had chosen a sunny yellow with which to do the job;  so I enthusiastically popped the top on the first gallon of sunshine yellow, dipped in my brush and started slathering away.  I am, by nature, a fairly reserved sort of person, taking each task seriously.  But when it comes to painting, I don't know quite what happens, but I just get slap-happy and slosh away with grinning gusto.  (Maybe it's the fumes.)   

So there I was, over on my wall humming and swishing merrily along, exchanging occasional conversation with H., the only other woman who had showed up to paint.  She did not appear to be happy to find that there were only going to be the two of us working on the project, but she dutifully put on her paint cap and began.  Very quickly our conversation seemed a little forced, so I let it drop and continued to man the drop cloths and masking tape.  Pretty soon I heard a small sigh, then in a few moments another louder sigh; and soon a forceful huff of disgust.

H. says to me, "This is just so frustrating."

I replied, "Yes, it has obviously been years since anyone has painted this kitchen, so it is tough going."

"Oh, I don't mean the painting itself.", replied H.  "It's the fact that I know I have already lost my reward for doing it that really bugs me."
I wasn't quite following her line of reasoning, so I just asked, "How do you know that?"

"It's simple", H. responded.  "I have done nothing but complain since we started, and I am really resenting this whole thing."

One of my least attractive qualities is an undisciplined sense of humor, and when something strikes me funny I am apt to laugh whether it is the right moment or not.  I could not help it, I laughed and laughed.  She eventually gave me a wry half-smile, too.  Nevertheless, I was afraid to let her know why I was laughing.  But now, twenty-five years later I don't mind sharing with you what struck me so humorously about her comment.

First, it had not occurred to me that we should be expecting any reward for painting the church kitchen.  It just needed to be done and I wanted to help do it. I guess I thought any "reward" would be seeing how pleasant it looked when we held the next potluck.  Secondly, H. complained about almost everything, so it struck me funny that she should be so upset about "losing her reward" for this particular effort. 

H. complained about her husband's job, her kids school activities, her housekeeping duties, the rabbits her husband raised in pens in the back yard, the womens' ministry activities, the mens' lack of ministry activities, and ...well, you get the idea.

She sometimes would refer back to the time in their lives when she had a better house, her husband had had a better paying job, etc.  She missed those good old days.  (Looking back to Egypt.)

She would also talk longingly about "once the kids were grown and out of the house" and they could "do some things", etc.  (Wishing for the future.)

But I cannot recall a single day that she ever just looked around and said, "This is a good day.  God has been good to us."  Truthfully, I felt sorry for her, but could only take her in small doses.  However, she taught me, inadvertently, a powerful lesson that day in the basement.  Complaining ruins what could otherwise be a growing, learning, positive experience.  Further, it puts us in a place where God cannot bless us as He would want to, because after all, He cannot reward griping.  It wearies Him, and we need only look at the children of Israel to confirm that truth.

It has always amazed me that the Israelites even wanted to go back to Egypt.  I mean, good grief, they were slaves there!  Tote that barge, lift that bale, scrub that floor for someone else, all day every day.  What were they thinking?

Well, the only concrete thing I ever read that they said they missed were the "leeks and garlic."  Excuse me?  I will trade a few savory veggies for a missed beating any day of the week.  There must have been more to it.  And there was.

Egypt, for all its woes, was at least two comforting things to them:
1. It was a known quantity.  They knew where the garlic grew and how to get it.
2. It was a unpredictable life.  You might get adopted by the Pharaoh's daughter and become a ruler.  Granted it was a long shot, but still, you never knew. So oddly enough, the past looked appealing, in a dreary sort of way.

Wait a minute.  A known quantity, but also unpredictable?  Isn't that contradictory?  Yes, but who said complaining was logical?  It is often contradictory, bearing little or no resemblance to what God is trying to show us. 

Wandering around in the desert, they did not know where or when they would camp next.  That was up to God.  There was no garlic in sight and life quickly took on a boring sameness - manna in the morning, and after bitter complaining, quail in the evening.  Strike camp, march through the heat and dust, make camp...start all over again.

Of course, they had the promised land to look forward to.  But that was in the future.  Who knew if that hope was real or imagined?
                                        & & && &

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.(Hebrews 13:8)

I have family and friends in various 12-step programs.  One of the things they endeavor to teach their followers is summed up something like this:

Yesterday is a canceled check.  Tomorrow is a promissory note.
Today is the only cash you have.  Spend it wisely.

What they were really complaining about, as Priscilla Shirer points out in today's quote, was that they did not know when they would be allowed out of the desert, and what they could expect in the promised land.  And thus, they were unwilling to trust what God was doing for them each and every day.  Oh dear, I have been right there in that camp with them, more than once.

Fortunately for all of us, and for each of us as unique individuals, God's patience is as wide and deep as the ocean.  He wants to give us peace - even in the desert.  Let's spend today wisely.  God bless you. ....Marsha Y.

1 comment:

  1. The "canceled check, promissory not, and cash" quote is great. Great post.