I toppled into it this morning without a clue. Actually, it was before that: The electricity had snapped off sometime in the middle of the night, my husband and I groaning as the fan’s blades slowed and quieted, leaving a stuffy heat beneath our mosquito net that I knew would make it challenging for him to sleep well.

In the morning, I cooked pancakes and eggs by candlelight; by 9 AM the lack of electricity to the water pump at the bottom of our hill meant we were without water in the kitchen sink, too—after nearly a week of alternating lack of power and water. Grr. The kids had forgotten to plug in the “school” laptop last night, so mine was the option for homeschool, i.e. getting my own work done in the afternoon did not seem in the cards. I scrambled through phone calls before my phone battery died. The power company wasn’t picking up.

But suddenly, around noon—the bathroom light flickered on. Was this…power before 6:30 PM (the time it usually flipped back on)?

What I sensed: delight. But immediately after: some legit guilt. See, I hadn’t just wanted the power to come back on. I was feeling pretty…entitled to it.

I trudged back out to my now-celebrating children and confessed the rottenness I’d been harboring, which I’m pretty sure had leaked out all over them.

Was it okay for me to wish I had power for the stuff I needed (wanted) to accomplish? Sure.

Was it okay for me to mention it? Sure, if I can do it with grace (the rule I choose for my family’s words, based on this principle. Usually, for me, this nixes “venting.”) The problem isn’t really honesty.

It’s perspective.

See, when I think of God’s beef with, say, the grumbly Israelites in the wilderness—it’s not wrong for a mom in the desert to want water for her baby. (Hagar did it.) It’s not wrong to want food in the desert. (Jesus did it.) It’s not wrong, even, to wonder how God’s going to accomplish something. (Mary, David, and a whole lotta other people did it.) In my estimation, the issues of the Israelites, which popped up over and over en route to the Promised Land—were, in two words, unbelief and entitlement. (My kids hear from me ad nauseam: The opposite of whining is gratitude.)

Here’s how I boil down the difference between complaining and just speaking the truth in love.

COMPLAINING/WHINING HEALTHY EXPRESSION
“I deserve…” “I would like…”
Demanding attitude; entitled Open-handedness toward God: “Not my will, but Yours”
Inner attitude resembling, “God didn’t get this right” Inner attitude of Godward trust, searching for gratitude and believing He cares
Can look like denial; fake gratitude that doesn’t inwardly acknowledge difficulty honest about what’s hard so God can be found and honored in that, too
often looks for fault, blame, or punishment acknowledges honestly how we’ve been hurt, as well as the lost beauty and goodness–but not for the purpose of damaging someone’s reputation
dwells in dissatisfaction, anger, bitterness when dissatisfied or angry, chooses over and over to trust God’s timing and plan
acts in order to find peace acts from a place of peace and trust
looks to circumstances for tranquility looks to God for tranquility
easy irritation; low threshold of frustration gracious humility based on the reality of our own brokenness
impulsive; destructive still guarding our mouths to make sure speech builds up and is appropriate for the situation (Ephesians 4:29); honest for the ultimate purpose of reconciliation

As I wrote in this post on the art of Christian grieving, what we’re not going for is more plastic, Barbie-ish Christianity with a molded smile: Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Have a cookie. Jesus wept, got ticked, and felt stress, all while being the most joyful guy that ever walked the planet.

Feeling frustrated or disappointed isn’t wrong; my emotions, in and of themselves, are dashboard lights. It’s what I do with it, right?

High standards, I think, are not the problem with being easily irritated. (Hello: God has pretty high standards.) But as we mature, our graciousness elongates our patience; our mercy triumphs over judgment. Personally,  greater gratitude, peace, maturity, tender-heartedness, and self-control increase the muscular tone of my rather weenie patience physique, particularly with other people.

As my son loves to quote, Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character. (Sigh. Pass me the power outage, please.)

 

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