“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…” -Philippians 2:14-16
This verse has long been one of my favorites. I think it’s because I love the image of starlight and the idea that that image could represent my life. The concept of holding out life to others is so beautiful to me. But it’s a tricky thing when one of your favorite verses has an antecedent that is so doggone hard. Take a liking to a verse like this, and it’s not going to stop chasing you down until you turn around and face it head on. Unfortunately, you’ll probably win. But it will keep pursuing you until it emerges victorious.
It hasn’t beaten me yet.
I’ve been going through a lot lately, a lot that might be considered pretty hard (though of course it could always be worse, and there’s always so much to be thankful for, a thought that I’ll come back to in a minute). But as I lay in bed the other night thinking about what to blog about next, what God might be trying to teach me, the thought came into my mind that this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, ever tried to do: To do everything without complaining or arguing. Most of the time it feels darn near impossible. Almost like that time in third grade when I, as a little Catholic schoolgirl, tried to go a whole day without sinning. I tried it several times and never succeeded. Usually I just ended up feeling confused about what counted as sin, and concluding that our sinful nature really was deeply inborn and inescapable. My perspective on sin has evolved since then. It’s usually pretty clear to me when I am complaining or arguing, and I do believe that a lifestyle free from complaining and arguing is possible, with a determined heart and a lot of help from God. Complaining and arguing just come so easily, though. But I have this deep-down certainty, feel it in my bones, that it would be one of the most transformative, life-altering things I could ever do.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about gratitude lately. Last year I read a book called One Thousand Gifts that challenged me to find a thousand things to thank God for, and I did. It was definitely instrumental in helping me move out of a season of despair into joy. There were plenty of things to thank God for, even in the hard things. Ann, the author, calls that “the hard eucharisteo.” But I’m finding that the hard eucharisteo has not finished its work in me yet. That the hardest eucharisteo, the hardest thanks to give, for me at least, might not be in the moments of crisis but in the ordinary, everyday moments when life doesn’t go my way.
I had a talk with a friend this week about expectations and how we get these ideas in our head of the way things should be, the way we want our day to go, the way we want our husbands to act, etc., and the disappointment and resentment that can sneak up when those expectations aren’t met. We both acknowledged that the key must lie in our own attitude, that we have the power to ruin the day for ourselves by refusing to let go of our expectations and desires in those moments. I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately. I felt my blood boil at the zoo the other day because my camera was responding slowly and I was missing the shots I wanted to capture. Then the battery died entirely and I was left cameraless. Luckily that time my wrath was only directed at a camera, but all too often there’s a person that might find themselves on the other end of my anger. That’s not the kind of life I want to live, and that’s not what it looks like to live a life of love and gratitude to God.
So what if I can find a few things to be thankful for about my son’s NICU experience or a miscarriage, if I still argue with my husband over bananas, if I still attach a little complaint onto the end of half of the things that come out of my mouth? What good does the gratitude do if the ingratitude still lingers? It’s just gratuitous if it doesn’t infiltrate everything. I can’t just sprinkle a little thankfulness and expect it to change my life. I need to pull up the ingratitude by it’s thick roots and not allow it to sprout up anywhere in my life.
That’s why it says “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Not just some things. Everything. And that’s why it’s so hard. But that’s what would make it so life-altering.
Can you imagine what your life would be like if you never complained or argued?
Blameless…Pure…Child of God… Faultless…Shining like a star in the darkness…Bearer of life…
Can you imagine if there were a bunch of us, all shining like stars?