The other day a funny thing occurred to me:
I’m a grumbler.
All of my life I’ve been a grumbler. Well, maybe that’s not true. I’m not sure. What I do know is that somewhere in the last several years, as long as I can recall anyway, I’ve been a real bitch- at least inside of my head *wink*.
Now many of you might not know what I mean by “grumbler”. It’s a bit tricky to explain. Grumbling, at least for me, is a kind of hot dish (those of you not from the Midwest think of it as a stir fry *wink*): you take a little bit of BLAME, mix in some NEGATIVITY, add a large chunk of PRIDE & ENTITLEMENT, and a healthy dose of SARCASM. I like to add a pinch of CURSE WORDS for flavor. Stir it all together and you have something like this:
Action: “What are we having for supper?”
Reaction: [in my head] “You mean, what am I making? I have to do everything around here!”
Action: “Do you have time to ____”
Reaction: [in my head] “Yeah, because I have nothing better to do. Hmpf.”
Do you get the picture?
It seems that the smallest thing can set it off. It’s barely a conscious thought, really. Rather it flies by like a dragonfly, zipping past before you can hardly even acknowledge it’s presence. Some days it’s like a constant, steady stream, a babbling brook of grumbles. Other days it isn’t really there at all; life is good- until it jumps up out of nowhere! Arrgghh! Even I’m not immune from it. “Way to go dummy” can be a pretty frequent reply I hear from myself.
But maybe it’s not just me. Maybe you all hear it too? Is it true? I’ve been seeing it develop in my children.The constant grumbling about what we are doing and where we are going. The snide comments directed at me and each other. I questioned whether it was a learned behavior or an ingrained part of humans. And perhaps it is- ingrained that is; I am not sure. Yet the more I thought about it I realized that I might be unintentionally teaching them the very things I yell at them for. Tuesday I caught myself saying, “Thanks for holding the door open. I’ve only told you two this is heavy about a hundred time.” It was said in frustration, but was dipped in sarcasm and presented as a joke; this solidified it. I constantly feel like I’m struggling to raise my kids to be more conscientious & mindful. Really, I’m raising my kids to be sarcastic little grumblers just like me. How can I expect any different?
Last week was when it hit me. We went to our neighborhood park to play some Frisbee. I was appalled to see the state of the park. It was strewn with litter as if each and every person had been carrying something and simply let it drop where they stood. It wasn’t from the wind it was from simple carelessness. It wasn’t just trash on the ground, but trash strewn in the sand surrounding the playground toys. As I sat there I could feel the anger rising in me. I could feel it picking away at me and my inner dialogue started to play. We had started coming to this park specifically because it was in our neighborhood, just a small walk away. It was populated by a large portion of our city’s Somali community and seemed like such a fun place to be on summer nights- kids running and playing, the women chatting and tending to the community garden while the men talked and laughed. That sense of community, of unity, made me jealous. As an American I don’t often feel I have that sort of connection with my countrymen or my city. Secondly, I had made a conscious effort to work for change in our community through action- most importantly my action. By befriending my Somali neighbors I would be able to show other white Americans in my community that there wasn’t anything to fear. I could show my Somali neighbors that there is more than just hatred and ignorance in our community. I could show my kids that friendship comes in many forms and that at the core we all are far more similar than we are different. Sitting there, all of these good intentions felt like a waste. I couldn’t believe “they” could do this; that “they” could be so careless. Ouch.
Then, out of nowhere, this little nagging voice started up saying, “How do you know it was them?” and “what does it matter who it was?”. Finally it turned into this little dialogue inside of my head:
“Pick it up.”
– “The trash can is probably full. That’s probably why it’s so messy.”
“So? Pick it up.”
– “I don’t have a trash bag.”
“So? Find one. Ask a neighbor.”
– I texted by friend Brandy who lives on that block. No answer…
“Pick it up.”
“Pick it up.”
-… Well maybe if I start picking it up people will get the hint…
– “Why not? After all, how can I teach my children not to litter and not pick it up when I see it?”
Kids pick up on everything. Every. Little. Thing. So if I could so easily teach them the “bad” behaviors by modeling them then maybe, just maybe I could do the same by doing “good” things. Not a novel idea, no. In fact, I had thought I was already doing this. Well, at least most of the time. Turns out I might have been wrong.
I picked up most of the trash that day and no one stopped to help out. People from the community walked right by. The kids at the other end of the park kept right on at their game of soccer. In fact, my own kids refused to help out and instead insisted on point out the things I had missed. LOL! But none of that really matters. You see, as I was walking around picking up the mess I remembered a couple things:
Do all things without grumbling or questioning that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked generation, among whom you shine.
Huzzah! It was like a blinding light from heaven. Well, more like the bedroom light being turned on as you’ve just fallen asleep. I mean, it feels blinding. I realized right then that I’d been fucking that one up pretty royally. And that verse (or rather the general gist of that verse as I’m terrible at memorization) just started the wheels turning. I remembered this:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear it.
I like to think that goes for thoughts and actions. Let your thoughts not be corrupting, but only for building up and let your actions give grace to those who see them. And of course, their is my personal favorite:
“Give thanks in all circumstances”. That’s one tall order. Maybe here it means being thankful that I am given the chance to show my children “good”; teach them to do the right thing by doing it myself and to do it with pleasure and not with a grumbling heart. Maybe it means being thankful for allowing this circumstance to happen in order to turn my gaze inward and stop putting the blame and hate on others. I’m starting to understand that odd adage “The Bible is the living word of God”. I always thought that was a weird thing to say; I mean, what a bunch of poppycock! But that’s what I thought about: The person I wanted to be. The person God wants me to be. The person I want my children to emulate. The person who can give grace and build up others. *As always I realize how all of this sounds- much like all the people I’ve mocked in my life and part of me desperately want to kick my own ass after re-reading it. But to change it wouldn’t be genuine- and that is what we are all about here, isn’t it?*
And the gears kept turning: I remembered the woman in NY who took to finding a new way to get the potholes in her town fixed. She said, “I wanted to do something creative to solve a problem we have every year and bring a smile to people’s faces.” Sweet, right? I have no doubt that there were more than a few grumbles that spring from good ol’ Elaine. The difference is that she didn’t just sit there and bitch in her head about how awful the city was or what an inconvenience it was to her. She got off her ass and did something about it. She did something GREAT and sweet and warm about it.
So when Hubs innocently said, “it smells like it might be burning” and I instinctively thought, “Sure. Just sit there. I’ll get it. I make all the damn food around here!”, I recognized it. So I took the food out of the oven, leashed up the dog and got ready to step outside. Hubs of course knew something was up, but I simply replied the usual “I’m fine” when really I wasn’t fine. As I sat outside waiting for Rocky to do his thing all over God’s green earth I thought about how this was MY thing, not his. How I had started supper so logically I should finish it- after all, that would be my expectation should he have started supper. I would have replied in kind. So how could I be mad? And then suddenly I wasn’t. When I went up I tried to explain that it was nothing, that it was my thing and to never mind. He insisted and so I explained it to him. It felt good and let me realize that at that moment we were both allowing me grace. It reminded me that I can be vulnerable around my husband, that it’s okay for him to see my cracks and that it’s okay to share my successes. That this is simply another way to show love through actions- asking for and giving forgiveness.
Am I going to stop grumbling? Probably not; let’s just be honest about it. Things are going to aggravate me and I’m going to think it as I’ve always done. Bad habits are hard to break. But now I’m aware of it. I can change how I think and choose how I live. I can stop saying it in front of my kids. I can start correcting myself. I can read and re-read Ephesians 4:31-32 until I wear a damn hole in the page.
Though I cannot always stop my thoughts I do control my actions.
Let there be actions of love, of respect, and of grace.