In a matter of minutes I discovered that everybody around me was complaining about one thing or another. Grumbling is apparently sticky. I found myself complaining about the complaining.
Imagine, if you will, a giant weigh scale in the middle of Kittitas County. On one side are our collective complaints, on the other side our thanksgivings. Judging by our speech, which side do you think would be heavier and which side would get catapulted to the moon?
“Man invented language,” Lily Tomlin quipped, “in order to satisfy his need to complain.” I can see that happening. It’s not a stretch to imagine my early ancestors creating words to protest having to eat lutefisk. Carping has a long and rich history — and we do it a lot. A case in point: there’s a book out titled “The Museum of Complaint,” detailing New York City’s historical laments. I’m not making that up. Grumbling is part of what it means to be human, but we doth protest too much, methinks. Surely, our language is destined to grow beyond the cries of a newborn baby.
With Thanksgiving now behind us, I decided to hit the streets to try to level the scales. I wanted to find out what people were thankful for in order to head off some of the Christmas wailing. So, I first went to the children of our valley and asked 84 second and third graders what they were grateful for. Here are some of their answers:
Dane: Life. Life is special because it makes you stay alive.
Logan: The Indians helping the pilgrims.
Madison: Family, food, and friends.
Jacob: The help given to my pregnant mom.
Sydney: The janitor because he makes things clean.
Haley: Food because if we didn’t have it we wouldn’t have lunch or breakfast.
Bonnie: My teacher. I’m just thankful I even have a teacher.
Matt: My mommy. She passed away when I was 3 years old. My mom loved me very much.
Amie: Parents. Dad and I spend time together on his bronco. I love to do the dishes with Mom.
Dixie: A roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in because it is cold outside.
Paige: My great-grandma because she is all alone and I miss her.
I then went into a popular Ellensburg coffee shop and for two hours asked 14 adults the same question. Matt was thankful for time; Tiana: community; Manne: knowledge; and Sheril was thankful for a 45 year marriage … and a really good haircut.
The survey results led to a surprising discovery; of the 99 adults and children surveyed, 73 answered that they were most thankful for relationships. Relationships matter more to us than Xbox, designer jeans, trucks and other stuff. Remembering this in a restaurant or on Christmas morning, well, that’s another matter.
Grumbling with others at separate tables is not a pretty sight. It fits us like a polyester jump suit. We were designed for better. Birds fly, fish swim, you and I are to count our blessings. The good news is that Jesus Christ invites us to a single table especially designed to heal our heart murmurs.
One day Jesus gathered his disciples for a holiday meal (Luke 22:24). Of course, like many holiday meals, there was arguing. In this case, the disciples complained about which one of them was the greatest; that is, who gets to sit by Jesus. None of the disciples wanted to sit at the foldable card table with the other kids during the Thanksgiving meal, so to speak. Jesus responded by teaching them that greatness is found in a servant, not a master. Servants surrender their sense of entitlement. They see every good and pleasant thing as coming from the Lord above (James 1:17).
The art of thanksliving is revealed in a servant’s heart. A servant’s heart has a childlike quality to it that provides balm to our souls. We would do well to listen to Jesus and follow his lead. We would also do well to listen carefully to the words of a second grader named Lavenna who said, “Today, I’m most thankful for life.” I just heard the scales move.
Kevin Hall is the pastor at New Life Assembly in Kittitas.