Yesterday’s post, “Stuck in Ohio… Or Not?” caused a stir on the blog–while people weren’t necessarily coming out of the woodwork, it was the most-viewed page on the blog to date. In light of this, I wanted to continue thinking about the ramifications of our complaints about where we live.
Let me stress to you the ubiquity of such comments: I noted yesterday that my parents moved from northeast Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona. My parents, used to endless cloudy, dreary days, have delighted in the nearly year-round sunshine of Phoenix. To my parents’ great surprise, they have encountered dozens of local residents who complain about the constant sunshine.
This, by the way, is the final and ultimate proof that the grass is, after all, greener on the other side.
The Irony of Complaining
So, back to complaining. When we complain about where we live, grumble about our region, and belittle our community’s importance, we endanger our participation in God’s purposes in that place. Take another look Philippians 2:14-15, this time in the NIV:
Do everything without grumblingor arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of Godwithout fault in a warped and crooked generation.”
Look again how Paul connects mission and service to complaining: when we complain, we endanger being a part of the God-ordained solution to our community’s problem. In more contemporary lingo, we endanger living missionally. When we don’t complain, we’re blameless; flipping that on its head, complaining puts us in the position of being blame-worthy.
In short, the irony of complaining about where we live is that we become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The Scriptures provide at least two images and commands for us as we consider where we live: Christians are called to be both a preservative to their community as well as a cultivator to their community.
The Salt of The Earth
In Matthew 5:13, Jesus teaches the crowds their role as cultural preservatives by likening Christians to salt. What we have all heard in at least one sermon is what I’m articulating here: that salt, which is used to preserve, is what we are to do as Christians in culture. We are to be the force of restraint in culture.
But when we complain, we forfeit our preservative power and instead become at best an impotent force, and at worst a polluting power. Take a look at Jesus’ words:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
In we maintain our saltiness, the text says, by letting our light shine before men; the metaphors get mixed, but the point is that when people see our good works, they’ll give glory to God.
In other words, the mission is accomplished.
Live Long and Prosper
Jesus teaches us in Matthew that we are to be a preservative power in the world; but way back when, God also gave humanity the command to prosper in the earth. Take a look at Genesis 1:26-28 via The Message:
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.’
While there are literally a few dozen dissertations and articles on the meaning of this text, it’s safe to say that we are to assist in the prosperity of wherever we live. We are to become cultivators of prosperity in whatever community the Lord asks us to be a part in.
Complaining is ultimately the opposite of cultivation; think of the old lady on your block who gardens all day and all night. She cultivates her garden as a labor of love, without complaint. In fact, she experiences great joy in cultivating her garden. Similarly, complaining robs us of the joy of cultivation.
This is not to say cultivation is not hard work–it is! But hard work and joy often go hand in hand: the harder the work, the greater the joy. Saying ‘no’ to complaining about where we live means we’ll cultivate with joy and truly participate in community there.
So Now What?
Am I making too big a deal about complaints about the weather, the traffic, and the local politics of your community? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I’ll invite you to check back in tomorrow for a list of practical steps for choosing not to complain and instead choosing to joyfully cultivate.