I’ve got two small children. I know what whining sounds like. Sometimes, before the request has completely left the tongue, I will stop and say, “Is that really how you want to ask me about that?”
Because I would really like them to learn young that whining gets them nowhere. That i tend to be more generous with snacks, outings, tv shows, and life in general, when I have been approached with a certain degree of pleasantness. Manners are important, but this is not just about manners. It is about the kinds of expectations that you bring into a conversation–is your connection to another person based only on what they can give you at that moment? Or can you bring a ‘whole person’ approach into even the most minor of conflicts?
To me, a person’s ability to cope with disappointment, conflict or sudden change of plans, has everything to do with how he/she views him/herself as a whole person. If you can remember, at all times, that you are 1)part of a family 2)part of a community, and 3)a child of God, then you will not have a complete and utter meltdown when you’re told there is no more chocolate milk. Or when your boyfriend breaks up with you. Or when you lose your job. You know–when life happens.
And, it inevitably will. So, yeah, not only is whining super unpleasant, it rarely gets you very far in life. So i try and shut it down, as often as i can.
Of course, when a small child is hungry or thirsty, there is not much they can do about it, other than to wine or have a fit. And if it’s going to be 10 minutes to get those chicken nuggets out of the oven…well, there might be some tears in that waiting place. Such is life.
This Sunday, we are talking about Moses drawing water from the rock. It always bugs me how biblical commentators hold up the thirsty Hebrews as whining, petulant children. I mean, God brought them out of slavery! Then gave them manna when they were hungry! Will they never be satisfied?
Well…have you ever found yourself, dying of thirst in the desert? Yesterday’s chocolate milk won’t cut it. Sometimes, there is nothing to do but cry in the waiting space.
But on the other end of the spectrum… I read another commentator that says God wants us to whine. The Psalms even encourage it! At this point, the mother-of-toddler voice in my hesitates. Um…define whining, exactly? Cause i’m pretty sure God does not enjoy it, either.
This is not to say that we can’t go to God with our pain. God wants us to bring our suffering, our needs, our desires, in all things, and turn them over. But really, whining?
To me, whining does not come from a place of real need; but a place of shallow want that is seeking instant gratification. I want to watch a cartoon. I want some chocolate milk. I have not eaten in 3 hours, and I am hungry NOW. I wanted THAT girl to like me. I wanted THAT phone, right now… and so on.
Dehydrated, wandering the desert? That is not whining. That is crying out to God from a place of desperate need. And that is when God–the mother so much more patient than me–always shows up, in SOME form or another. And our ability to recognize the provision that God puts before us… it is all in how we ask.
If, on the other hand, we pray, remembering: 1)that we are part of a family, 2) that we belong to community and 3)that we wholly and utterly belong to God…well, maybe God is a little more likely to make with the chocolate milk. It’s not that God rewards our good manners by giving us what we want. But when we go to God remembering that we are whole people–and also, respecting the ‘person’ of God, and remembering that we are in a two-sided relationship–well, then, what we really need seems to present itself. And we are so much more likely to recognize that gift as what it really is–manna from heaven.
I’m reminding myself today–as I try to, most days–that prayer is not a Sears catolog. If I go to God with a specific list of wants, I will be disappointed, nearly every time. (Dear God, would you please make sure that at least 50 people show up to this event I’ve been planning for months? Dear God, would you please produce $100k extra for next year’s budget? Dear God, would you please send us 20 new members this month, and let at least 10 of those be musicians? Btw, throw me a sermon for Sunday, while you’re at it. I’m kind of tired. Thanks, that’d be awesome).
But you know… if I pray in the simple way that Jesus taught me to–trusting that I have a relationship with God, and that God already knows what I need–well, then God never ceases to knock my socks off. Dear God…you are right, this is not a letter to Santa Clause. Please send us the right people, with the right gifts, so that we can do what you are asking of us, in this time and place. That will just about cover it. Thanks.
I may have to remind myself on occasion–cause you know, i really do want my chocolate milk RIGHT NOW–but that kind of prayer has never failed me in ministry, it has never failed my church, and i’m pretty sure it is the proper response to every situation. Dear God…you already know what I need. Please send it my way. Then give me the wisdom to recognize it when it shows up, the courage to take you up on it, and the grace to say thank you. Amen, and i’ll stop whining now…