Stop Complaining: A Lenten Fast

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a forty day period of preparation; preparation for lots of things really. In the ancient church, it was a period of preparation for those who would be baptized that year (yup, they baptized but once a year) at the great Vigil of Easter. It is a time of spiritual preparation for the holiest events of the Christian year – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord. It is also an annual time of deepening our preparation to live as disciples of the Crucified One, Jesus. In some ways it is similar to fast days in the Jewish faith and Ramadan for our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Lent’s three major disciplines are: prayer, acts of love, and fasting. If you have ever eaten fish on Friday during Lent, that was a fast. Given up chocolate? Fast. Eschewed dessert? Fasting. Often, these kinds of fasts are easily broken and not deeply meaningful. It seems to me that if we really want to change our lives and maybe even change the world a little bit, we could fast from other things. So, I’ll offer some in the coming weeks. First up: STOP COMPLAINING.

Complaining is a waste of emotional energy and rarely, if ever, accomplishes anything.Complaining encourages bad habits and destructive behaviors, like gossip and “evil talk” (Eph. 4:29). Complaining keeps us from the spiritual work of acceptance and constructive efforts to actually solve problems. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a prayer that came to be called “The Serenity Prayer.” Used extensively as a prayer for those striving to heal from addiction, the prayer is really for all of us.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

When we complain about our spouse, sibling, child, co-worker, or boss to others, we are simply refusing to understand and accept them as unique human beings. We are avoiding going to them to talk through a problem or discuss a latent hurt. When we complain, we feed the growth of resentment within us and it begins to spread.

When we complain about bad government, big corporations, faceless bureaucracies, we begin to build a world view that blames others for everything. That keeps us from working for solutions, addressing our part of the problem (and I guaranty we are always complicit), or accepting and understanding what we can’t control.

Niebuhr’s prayer has a little known second stanza. Accepting what we can’t change, changing what we can and knowing the difference is not an end in itself. This leads to a deeper and more abiding relationship to Christ. Niebuhr’s prayer continues:

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Fast from complaining this Lent and explore how, in Christ, you can be more accepting and more motivated to change. Blessed Lent to you.


© 2017 Timothy V. Olson. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “Stop Complaining: A Lenten Fast

  1. Sister Jean

    I completely get what you are saying here, my brother, but this is a tricky message when heard by the abused and the oppressed. They often need to complain, converse and compare to be sure of their sanity, their safety and their status. They are often told to say nothing or very bad things will happen. Very often they have been gaslighted so many ties and often- they need to be assured their thinking is right or hear what they know is straight thinking from another source. You see where I am going with this?

    1. Yes, I do. To ignore the issues of abuse was certainly not my intention. I think my point is valid and perhaps it is simply my feeble efforts that fail to provide sufficient nuance. Sorry if I offended.

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