A woman in her eighties, rigid and conservative, had become cynical. She thought everything modern was bad and every new change was a disaster. She complained to a neighbor, “It's a good time to be dead.”
Now, few of us would be pleased at being compared with this glum person. But many of us, if we are honest, do not have much room to brag. We know that one of the things we do best – and perhaps most frequently – is grumble. And our grumbling tends to spill over into everything else.
Like the woman previously mentioned, a number of us just aren’t happy, and we may not even be able to tell the reason why. As individuals and as a society, we grumble and complain so much that it brings us down, along with everybody else around us. Grumbling is one of the most insidious imprisonments of all – most of us don't even recognize it as a problem and therefore we never realize the residual damage or its negative effects in our lives.
An old story tells of a hound dog sitting in a country store, howling his head off. A stranger came in and said to the storekeeper, “What's the matter with that dog?” The storekeeper said, “He's sitting on a cocklebur.” “Then,” asked the stranger, “Why doesn't he get off ?” “Because.” said the storekeeper, “he'd rather holler!”
So often that’s true of us, isn’t it? We’d rather grumble. Like the Israelites of old, we forget the graciousness of God in our lives.
The Israelites were camping at Rephidim, the stopping place on their way out of Egyptian bondage. They wanted water, and they wanted it pronto. They didn't ask Moses for it, they demanded it of him. They grumbled, “Give us water to drink! Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?”
How quickly the Israelites had forgotten the continuing graciousness of God in their lives. Never mind the fact that God in God’s grace had already provided them a way out of Egypt. Never mind that God had delivered them from an angry, pursuing Pharaoh. Never mind that God had already provided them with their daily manna. Never mind that God had chosen them as His people. Never mind all that! They wanted water, and they grumbled.
And how quickly we forget! For example, many grumble about the problem of growing older. I read that we tend to forget that 150 years ago, approximately 2.5 percent of North American citizens were over the age of 65. Today that number has grown to more than 10 percent. In other words, if we were living back then, many of today's persons over 65 wouldn't have these problems, because they’d already be dead!
Robert Fulghum, the noted author, said that visiting his own grave “has the reliable capacity to untwist the snarls in my mind and soul.” Putting it another way, visiting his grave helps him gain a perspective on his grumbling. Fulghum said, “On one visit, I realized that if I had died that day, and if my wife were to put an honest epitaph on my headstone, it would say, ‘Here lies a jackass – too (griped) off to live long.’” Then he said, “How I’d hate to die mad.”
Visiting his own grave had helped Fulghum recognize the blessing of his wife. And it helped to illustrate for him what may not be obvious enough to most of us in our own lives: grumbling is not very flattering.
But a deeper thought I want to leave with you is that grumbling is an indication that we have forgotten the continuing graciousness of God in our lives. It is usually a symptom of a need for fresh grace.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.