Never have I had a quicker opportunity to apply the book I’ve been reading. I read most of Ronnie Martin’s Stop Your Complaining on the morning of a holiday Monday, then went to a polling station to cast my vote for next week’s election. (Yes, the advance polls are open on the holiday; I will be away on Election Day and decided to make sure I cast my ballot.) I walked into the community center and saw a lineup—a very big lineup that was going nowhere fast. I had the choice: Would I be grateful for a free country and peaceful, democratic elections? Or would I join the crowd in grumbling about the incompetence of Elections Canada (before heading home to finish the book, of course)? Would I turn this into an opportunity for grumbling or gratitude?
Gratitude does not come easily to me. It should. I live an easy, convenient, first-world life. I have been given innumerable blessings, not the least of which is the gift of salvation. But still, I like to complain. I like to apply my powers of perception and discernment to the people and situations around me and to discuss their inevitable shortcomings. It’s not complaining, right? It’s just honesty. It’s just observation. Somehow I always feel like I am justified in it. It’s like the book says: “Complaining is more than just a cute adjective to describe us on our bad days. In all of its various forms and functions it’s become a lifestyle, a way of existence and a daily routine that is as natural to us as breathing, walking and eating. It’s built into the foundation of our communication, bridging cultures together as one of the few ways we know how to relate to one another.”
That’s exactly why I pulled this book out of the pile that showed up this month. I know I have a bit of a problem here. I’ve been aware of it for some time and have been working on it. But I was eager for a bit more guidance. And I’m glad to say that Martin’s book delivered admirably.
I found two significant ways that this book shifted and sharpened my understanding of complaining. First, Martin emphasizes the sheer evil of complaining—at least, the kind of grumbling, self-centered complaining that I am prone to. He says rightly that “complaining is a slow, subtle poison that builds in our systems and usually goes undetected. It may be one of the least discussed sins in churches today.” It’s sheer prevalence may make it an acceptable sin, but that does not diminish its ugliness or seriousness. At heart, complaining is casting blame on God, suggesting that he has not provided what I am sure I need. That is a serious charge, a serious offence.
Second, Martin emphasizes that complaining is not so much something I do as something I am. Complaining goes far deeper than words. Words, after all, are simply an overflow of the heart. In that way, complaining exposes an inward dissatisfaction and an inner conviction that I deserve better than what God has provided in this moment (or in that moment when I walked into the voting station.)
But, of course, Martin does not simply describe and define the problem. He also offers a solution—the Bible’s own solution. He points to repentance and gratitude, both flowing from and related to the gospel, as the keys that can overcome this ugly problem.
If you read a book like this one and come away with two simple things—a deeper disgust of complaining and a heightened desire for gratitude—your time has been well-spent. And I think that is what you will find if you read it. Stop Your Complaining is short but not trite, light but still significant. It’s exactly the book I needed today.