In the strange events of 2020, I have been convicted repeatedly of my tendency to complain when my circumstances are less than ideal. When I find my freedoms impinged upon, my attitude tanks. It is a struggle to stay focused on my Savior and the joy before me; it’s easier to complain that I can’t find yeast for my sourdough or whine about the parks and restaurants being closed. I am again struck by Spurgeon’s exhortation that “We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough”. As I adjusted to the circumstances of 2020 that are so far out of my control, thistles of bitterness and brambles of discontent sprouted and began to grow in my mind, without any prompting or encouragement. Every time my husband had to work late, I grumbled my way through the evening, thinking, “Why is he so essential? Why can’t he stay home like everyone else?” In my thoughts, I was becoming like a petulant child, whining over every little thing that didn’t go her way. And the reality of a complaining heart is that it makes it difficult to find the presence of God and be joyful about anything.
In Philippians 4:11, the Apostle Paul says he has “learned to be content in whatever circumstances” he encountered. And his life hadn’t been easy since coming to Christ- he’d been beaten, thrown in jail, shipwrecked, put on house arrest and abandoned by friends. And yet, he was content. The word content means “to be independent of external circumstances.” My contentment in life doesn’t have to depend on my ability to go to the office for work, to freely grocery shop with my kids or even worship in my church building with that little family of Christ. My contentment doesn’t have to hinge upon where I live, who I see every day, where I work or don’t work, or any other external thing. My contentment is sourced in God’s constancy, and His reliable, deep, enduring love for me.
In all of this, I can appreciate the truth that I am always in the process of becoming more like Christ. I am learning to be content. It won’t come without endless nights of tears or impossibly long days. It won’t come without painful reminders of what I am missing. And yet, I know it will come. As Paul exhorts the church in Thessalonica, part of becoming more like Christ is the daily practice of rejoicing, praying and giving thanks no matter the circumstances. I must rearrange my thoughts if I am to stop the thistles and brambles from spreading in my heart. Even though I may feel like my life circumstances are cold and discouraging, lingering just beyond the present moment is the promise of warmth, comfort and joy as I learn to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.
So as 2020 ends and we peek around the corner at 2021, I pray that we will all turn our eyes to Jesus when we are caught up in a complaining spirit. May He remind us of His grace and love so that we will become steadfast and joyful in the year to come.