Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Truly I Say Unto You, Stop Whining!

It took me years to figure out that Mrs. Comer had lied to her third-grade class. An experienced teacher who probably loved teaching but seemed not to like children, Mrs. Comer found ways to keep us under control. How did she do it? She treated us like adults. Instead of asking whether we could go to the bathroom, we just excused ourselves, flipping over the wooden block from green to red to signify that someone in the class was already down the hall. A year later, my fourth-grade teacher would reject such liberty, and I felt like I was back in kindergarten again. Mrs. Comer did not give us a pencil if we did not have one. If we left it at home, we had to figure it out on our own. It did not matter that her desk drawer was full of nicely sharpened #2s. Those were for her, not us. But, looking back, my favorite Mrs. Comer technique, which I did not understand for years, was the tattle box. If someone did something to you—hit you, called you a name, took your lunch—you were not to go and tell Mrs. Comer. She had zero interest in hearing from you. “Go write it down and put it in the tattle box,” she would say to the distraught student. “I’ll read it later.”

Well, that was just plain old bullshit. She never read those notes. We nine-year-olds poured our wounded hearts out on those scraps of paper, and I’m 100% sure that all she ever did was dump that box into the trash when it was full. What a genius! Imagine finding a way to eliminate completely the yah-yahs of third grade! No whining about other students. No complaining. “Go put it in the tattle box” was all she needed to say. I don’t know whether Mrs. Comer was a Christian—probably, since we’re talking about 1980s small-town Alabama—but she was clearly a disciple of Jesus’ how-to-handle-a-complaining-sister technique.

“JEEESUS,” Martha whined, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work? Tell her to help me. This is hard. I’m tired.” It’s the kind of plea that is usually made by third-graders, but, when it comes to siblings, it’s the kind of whining and complaining that lasts well into adulthood. Brothers and sisters are the first relationship of comparison. We don’t like it when they get something we don’t receive. We want everything to be “Even Stephen,” and parents go to great lengths to make sure that they treat their kids equally. (This usually backfires, of course, because the grass is always greener on my sibling’s side.) Ultimately, Martha comes to Jesus wanting him to make everything right. “You tell her to help me,” she says to the teacher, the master, the male authority figure in the house. And Jesus pretty much says “no.”

Actually, he says more than that, doesn’t he? He doesn’t just refuse to get involved, but, at the same time that he steps away, he pulls Martha right back into the middle of the emotional angst she had experienced but from which she was trying to escape. “Mary has chosen the better part,” he said to her. “The problem isn’t hers. It’s yours. You’re distracted by many things. You need to learn your own lesson. I won’t solve your problem for you. You have to solve it yourself.” Ouch. That stings. It hurts when the person we thought would take our side and give us relief steps back, slaps us in the face, and says, “Tough stuff, Sally Jane. You deal with it.”

Jesus the healer. Jesus the reconciler. Jesus the feeder. Jesus the exorcist. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the pastor. Jesus the friend. But not Jesus the fixer. Jesus did not come to earth to fix all your problems. Salvation doesn’t mean that we get what we want—that our slice of cake is as big or bigger than our sister’s, that our grass is as green or greener than our brother’s, that our life is as full and happy and complete or more so than that of others. Jesus came and lived and died and rose again not to take all of our problems away but to equip us to deal with them on our own.

Think about it this way: if Jesus Christ is the means by which you are reconciled to God—if he is the way that you know in your heart that God is waiting to welcome you into his kingdom—why would you complain about anything? If God loves you like that, who cares about anything else? Stop whining to God. Remember that God loves you. Believe that he will save you even from death itself. And let everything else fall into its proper place and keep it in its proper perspective.

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