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.

Onward.

Day 18. It’s starting to get noisy in here

Yes, it’s weird. Since I got quiet, I’ve started hearing stuff I didn’t know was there/hadn’t heard for ages/thought had died off years ago, while I was growing this crust of discontent. The truth is I have little to be discontent about. I am very, very fortunate, and very, very forgetful of it most of time. In this time of reflection I’m noticing how quick my temper is, how thin my patience and, of course, how much people complain. No, you don’t have to say it. I cannot build a case against anyone else.

Not complaining has slowed me down. It has shortened a lot of conversations, ended some completely and spared me embarrassment more than once.  I learned this week that if I don’t shout back at my daughter in the heat of a fight she will calm down and apologise. This comes into the category of my Lent discipline because complaining to, about and over my children and their sometimes challenging ways has formed a large part of my conversation (not to mention my shouting ) for months. Okay, years.

All this suppressed complaining is stacking up in my head like weeks of dirty dishes. Unsightly and starting to smell. So I’ve been complaining in my head, so that at times I’m aware of an internal soundtrack of whining, not unlike a bee trapped inside my mind. This week I have tried bringing my complaints to God, which seems to be reducing the washing-up and the buzzing in my ears. I say my piece and often get a different perspective, which neutralises the complaint.

I am finding this very, very difficult. But worthwile. Because first, I know God doesn’t like moaners. Second, I want to raise my kids without (too much) nagging. A crazy dream, perhaps. And third, I don’t want to be miserable. And complaining, I realise, makes me miserable. So I press on towards the prize of positivity.

 

 

Day 3, No Complaints

Two days in and it’s not been too bad, except that like all addictions all I can see is reasons to complain. I decided to do this because a few weeks ago I bumped into a woman from church who I don’t know very well, at a time when I was feeling stressed and upset at the prospect of a camping trip with my family. It was the camping part that was distressing me, not the thought of the weekend with the family (though, now I come to think of it…) Anyway. I was speeding round the supermarket in a slightly altered state when I heard my name being called and found myself having to dig deep to have a normal, polite chat with this very lovely woman I’m just getting to know. I clearly hadn’t dug deep enough though because when she asked me how I was, out came this fire-hose delivery about how stressed I was and how much I hate camping and how much I had to do and so little time to do it and on and on…and she said, very gently, “I could give you a scripture for that, you know”.

That shut me up. I almost didn’t want to ask. But you have to, don’t you. Especially when you’re being polite. So I asked. And she said, “Do everything without complaining.”

Well, she didn’t give me the reference but it was unwelcome enough for me to know it was in the book somewhere. I’ve probably read those words myself. (I found it later in Philippians 2 v 14.) But because I don’t know her that well, I couldn’t say what I might have said to a close friend, like, Shut up. Instead I thanked her. She then gave me another verse, which is ‘Do not be anxious about anything but in everything with praise and thanksgiving, make your requests known to God and the peace of God which passes  all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in the love of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4 v 6 – 7). That made the first pill easier to swallow.

I realise that the world (the first world anyway, where we have choices about these things) divides into those who love camping, and normal people. Going over my reasonable objections to it will just upset me all over again, and break my lent discipline of not complaining. So anyway. Off I went armed with my verses, determined to do it all without complaining, and …had a great time. I observed two things about this. First, that applying this painful scripture to my situation actually worked. I just got on with it. I didn’t let myself dwell on what I didn’t like, or what I was dreading, and it improved my whole experience. I was amazed. And the second verse about bringing my requests to God, that seemed to work too. I was anxious about all the mud and the insects and the dirty clothes and all of that seemed to just, well, not bother me much in the end.

I was even able to deal with the post-camping washing without whining. It was as if not complaining about the trip made it somehow more enjoyable. So because I wasn’t standing on the sidelines moaning or rolling my eyes I got more involved. It was great. It may not have looked like much to any casual observer but this was huge for me. Of course I’ve slipped a bit since then (ask any family member) but this Lent thing should hopefully get me back on track. Sorry if this is all obvious to you, but after a lifetime of moaning this is a bit of a revelation to me.

So that was the first observation, that applying the bible to normal, mundane everyday life, where we all live, actually works. And the second was that it’s very unusual to hear Christians give advice straight from Scripture like that. I’m very guilty of this, trying to finesse God’s word to make it more palatable to people so they won’t judge me. Yes it sounded mad in my head and looks even more stupid written down. But that’s the truth.

If anyone else is attempting this no-complaining Lent thing with me, let me know.