A week ago, my family visited a local farm to pick strawberries. As we left, I bought each of my kids a flavored popsicle for the drive home. They enjoyed it for a few minutes until I heard from the back of the car that my son wanted a napkin because he did not like it. My ten-year-old daughter told my eight-year-old son, “You never like anything, it’s too hot, or it’s too cold, it doesn’t taste good, you are never satisfied.” At that moment I did not know whether I should commend her for her skillful assessment of the human heart or to comfort my son who had just received a tongue lashing as he had his heart exposed.
Over this last year it seems that complaining has become so normal that we do not realize we are doing it all the time. Can you believe the traffic? I cannot believe I have to wear a mask outside. These politicians are so corrupt. Another lockdown? Can you believe how long this line is?
Complaining shows up in our lives daily as we make a judgment of what we think is not right, fair, or does not satisfy us. Have you ever thought about how many times you complain in one day? A follow-up question is to ask why we complain. One story in the Bible helps us think through what is going on in our hearts when we complain.
The story shows up in the book of Exodus and Numbers. In Exodus, God had saved his people from their enemies and then led them into the wilderness. They were hungry, so God supplied manna (bread) from heaven (Exodus 16). They were thirsty, so God supplied water from a rock (Exodus 17). They had enemies, so God protected and preserved his people (Exodus 17). We read this story again with more detail in the book of Numbers. We learn that the people complained a lot even though God preserved them for forty years in the wilderness. The people began complaining to Moses about their misfortunes (Numbers 11). They said they missed what they had when they were captive (back in Exodus). They missed the fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. They were sick and tired of the manna, “But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:6).
This story teaches us a lot about the “why” behind our complaining. Here are two reasons why they complained, which I know I relate to.
- Forgetfulness – The people had forgotten what God had done for them. The Egyptians held them captive and put them into forced labor. They cried out to God, and he saved them. They were hungry in the wilderness and cried out to God, and he fed them. They were thirsty, and God gave them water. Enemies attacked them, and God gave them victory. The Lord did miracle after miracle after miracle, but they soon became used to it that they lost their awe of God and replaced it with complaining.
- Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction – Have you ever wanted something so much that you just had to have it to be satisfied? The people had divine deliverance, bread, water, and protection. Yet, all of that quickly became dissatisfaction when they said life was better when they were captive. We experience this as adults, but we see it most often in children. Children dream about the latest and greatest new toy. They finally get it and play with it all night, even putting it in bed with them. Then a month later, that new toy is in the box of toys to donate. What happened? The distance between satisfaction and dissatisfaction is very short. We try to find satisfaction by fulfilling our wants in a world that cannot give us complete satisfaction, even when we get what we want. We receive what we want, but then that quickly fades away and we become dissatisfied because our desires trick us!
We forget easily and are never fully satisfied. My daughter made the right observation about all our hearts, which reveals the deeper longing for satisfaction that cannot come from anything in this world but only from the Creator himself. Only then can we go from complaining to gratitude.