Day 40. Meeting The Elephant

I’ve been feeling a lot better since I put the fork down last week. Chronic self-criticism has been a fantastic distraction with years of life in it. A gift that keeps on giving, if you let it. I’ve used it to avoid all kinds of ventures, opportunities and challenges thus far. But it has been most useful in keeping my gaze averted from the so-called elephant in the room, the greatest complaint in my life (and possibly I’m not alone), which is against God himself. For not letting me have my way. For letting bad things happen to good people. For letting good things happen to bad people. For rain when I want my washing to dry. For sunshine when I’m sick in bed. For not letting me be in charge, basically. For being God. Sometimes I wonder if all people who identify as atheists really don’t believe in God, or whether they just don’t like him and would rather he wasn’t there. If I’m honest, and I might as well be, sometimes a small part of me wishes he wasn’t. Or would at least go on holiday from time to time so I could indulge whatever foolishness I had in mind, out of sight.

However. God is, and I know it. And the truth is that he does not have to do things my way. He doesn’t need my permission to act, or not act. And that is the major complaint I have recognised during this Lent discipline. When I started this I hoped to become more aware of my blessings, and expected to be writing about them. It’s impossible to ignore the good stuff when you’re censoring out the negatives. But I have been surprised by the turn this exercise has taken. It has led me into some dark places. I am grateful, though. At different times in my journey with God I have needed to see what’s really operating at my core, what drives my responses and my aspirations, not what I think is there, or should be there. And it is always the case that at the same time as seeing the sometimes ugly truth, I see more clearly the beauty of God’s grace, kindness and patience towards me.

The classic Biblical personality related to complaining, or with apparently every right to do so, is Job. He was a respected man in his community, did everything right as far as devotion to God was concerned and was prosperous. And to prove a point, God let Satan take it all away, his wealth, his family and his health. Job’s initial reaction is amazing. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord, he says. Then his three mates get into some theologising and theorising on the possible causes of his sudden and stark misfortune. Job’s answers to them reveal a strong sense of his own righteousness. Not pride so much as confusion about what’s happening to his life because he’s always done the right thing. This reaction flows freely with his mates. But faced with God, he dries up. I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth, he says.

My problems are strictly first-world. A broken fingernail in comparison with what Job endured back then, and billions of others deal with every day. It’s interesting to notice that I don’t question the blessings when they come along, only the things I perceive as negative. With this in mind, and still quiet inside since Lent started, I note that I am accountable to the same almighty God as Job. Who has the power to give and take away. So I think I need to continue to watch my mouth. Or rather, my heart, as Jesus said that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of our hearts.

So watching over my heart, I look forward to remembering and re-assembling for myself the events commemorated in the coming week, culminating in God’s greatest act of love towards me and all humanity on the cross.


Day 32. Puncture Marks

This week I realised that as well as complaining about the world out there, a lot of the negative, critical thoughts that have gone (mostly) unvoiced in my mind since I gave up complaining for Lent are actually about me. Things done or not done, said or not said. And it’s a tricky balance for a Christian because we are all aware, or should be, that we are sinners who mess up; the reason God had to make a rescue plan in the first place. So yes of course I’m rubbish at keeping it together. I wouldn’t need God otherwise. But I have been stuck in front of my own flawed reflection, and it’s not healthy.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made, according to Psalm 139, and God knows all about me and loves me anyway, whether I’ve got it together or not.

It’s been difficult hearing my inner moaner revealing some awkward attitudes and expectations of life, God and the people around me. However, this past week has been more about hearing what’s wrong with me than anything else. Yes I’ve just repeated myself. Just one of the things I’ve been noticing and criticising more and more of late.

I have 8 days to go, I think. Who knows what cheery revelations they will bring. I can hardly wait. But  – hold on, I seem to be complaining, don’t I. About complaining about I. See where this stuff can take you?

So I am resolved now to bring an end to this hitherto unnoticed habit of finding fault with myself. Of harping on my defects, and all the reasons I can’t do things. When I say this habit has gone unnoticed, that’s perhaps not strictly true. Others have noticed. My parents. My husband. My friends. Almost everyone who gets to know me, in fact. But I have not believed them before this week. Because I could not hear myself. This week it has been loud and clear. And, at times, very hard to bear. I realised that what may have started life as false modesty or shyness had grown into a deep valley of distrust of my own abilities. I need to climb out, but how?

This week has been one the most difficult yet. But I am grateful for it, even though I had no idea where to start my recovery until this afternoon. At my kids’ school assembly, a class of 1st-Graders shared what they were good at. These accomplishments covered diverse skills like bike riding, singing, playing Minecraft, hiding in small spaces (loved that) and making friends. And I thought, what a great exercise. Instead of finding fault with myself I can try listing the things I’m good at. Some days the list may be shorter than others. It doesn’t matter. Beats stabbing myself with a fork.



Day 25. Speech Impediment

A little over 3 weeks ago I started a Lent discipline. The challenge, or opportunity, depending on your personality, was to live an uncomplaining life from now until Good Friday. (It would probably be a good thing to continue with after that, but let’s not get carried away). So far, it has been humbling hearing all my unspoken complaints massing restlessly in my mind. I’ve had to do something with them all, so I have been telling God about them. God responds mostly of late with silence, which simply means he’s handballed it back to me. So then I have to really listen to it myself. Try to figure out what’s actually bugging me. And then either come up with a solution or get help. Yes, that means going back to God again. Contentment is becoming the simpler option, not because I don’t want God’s help (how foolish would that be?) but because it’s not worth all that time and emotion, and also, mysteriously, life is more peaceful when I just let go of my need to find fault.

This week again I noticed that  a lot of my complaints relate to my children, who are all busy with their own transitions, just like the rest of us. When they don’t behave the way I want them to, they earn The Speech, usually introduced by the phrase, “You know what? I am not putting up with/If you could just, for once….” and on and on and so forth. Until maybe a week ago I was quite satisfied that this aspect of my parenting didn’t need sorting. But since then, I have been hearing the speeches in my mind, kindly playlisted by God. As it says in Isaiah 55, his ways are not our ways. And even if his ways turn out better than anything I could come up with myself, the process is rarely straightforward. Or painless.

I’ve been trying to work out why, for example, I so hate having to repeat the same instruction to a child who will, I know, ignore it and then blame me for the outcome. Because it’s frustrating. It’s demoralising. It’s tedious. And it will happen again tomorrow. I realise I wish that they cared as much about whatever the issue is as I do, but the truth is that they don’t. Because they’re kids. In fact they may never care as much as I do. They may be starting out on a lifetime of chaos and poor dietary choices for all I know. But I will try to stop making speeches. Because I don’t enjoy listening to them, and because they haven’t worked. I think I’ll try instead to work with them on the non-negotiables without resorting to lists of misdemeanours stretching back into their infancy. Let’s see how that goes.

It’s not just the kids, either. (Yes, I’ve got a bit of work to do).  Someone very wise told me only yesterday that those differences between couples that make the early part of a relationship so exciting provide “lots of material to work through later” when those differences start to grate. I thought that was a beautifully positive spin on one of the hardest parts of life, learning to live with the tiny niggles that can drive people mad about each other.

So I’m shutting down even more as the days pass, abandoning yet another form of complaining, but starting to consider how to deal with the things that irritate, rather than just talk about them. Learning to pick up my mat and walk.