When we live in an age where discontent operates on an industrial scale and moves at social-media speeds, it’s hard not to join in. Yet when the whole world seems to be moving in one direction, the hero may just be the one who stands his ground.
At first blush, the quiet corrosion of grumbling might seem a relatively harmless thing. No one is directly injured. Talking behind someone’s back is probably less disruptive than confronting them face-to-face. What’s the harm of blowing off a little steam?
Grumbling can cripple a church’s ministry. It can undermine harmony in any family. Further, anyone who has ever had responsibility of managing other people knows that quiet grumbling is one of the biggest barriers—if not the biggest—to building and maintaining an effective team.
I know a little bit about that. I spent ten years in the middle of my career serving as photo editor, graphics editors and director of photography at three different newspapers on the west coast. That was an incredible decade, working with some of the talented people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world. But to be honest, some level of grumbling on the staff was a frequent challenge at each of my jobs.
Facing the problem requires understanding a few things.
First, this is nothing new.
The problem of discontent in the crowd is as old as humanity itself. The Bible contains many descriptions of people complaining against God. Indeed, grumbling is the first sign of a people falling away from God. Many in Israel did it during the wilderness years when God was miraculously feeding them every day.
Second, this is nothing good.
While facing up to to evil and opposing it can be a noble or even a courageous act, complaining under the surface accomplishes nothing at all. Many perceived problems are exaggerated or misunderstood. And real problems are not addressed at all by silent complaining.
Third, this is nothing we cannot defeat.
When I was managing photographers at daily newspapers, the grumbling thing would really get to me. Then I realized that for much of it, the real issue was my own pride. Over time, I deciding to commit myself to being a servant leader—and that made the all difference. When you are actively trying to serve people, what they say about you loses its importance.
Do you want to make a difference in the world? Show up with a smile. Serve without complaining. Walk the extra mile. The very things that we are called to as Christians are the things that stand out as a fresh contrast against the defeat of discontent.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,”Paul wrote in Philippians 2,“but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”