Jan 24, 2012

No Whining Allowed

My eyes are worn out from weeping;
     my stomach is churning.
My insides are poured on the ground because the daughter of my people is shattered,
     because children and babies
     are fainting in the city streets. (CEB)

I don’t like whining. As a parent, I was adamant about not allowing my children to become whiners. They were free to express their negative feelings about something they felt to be unfair, but endless griping and grousing was unacceptable.

I’m not alone in my intolerance for whining. I expect most of my readers will concur with me. Moreover, the anti-whining movement has created a cottage industry that produces bumper stickers, signs, and T-shirts proclaiming such things as: “No Whining Allowed” and “This is a no whining zone.”

One of the reasons we may be reticent to grieve is that we don’t want to be whiners. We don’t want people to avoid us because we’re always down in the mouth. We don’t want to be thought of as big babies. So we put on a happy face and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get a grip and buck up and do whatever it takes to avoid the label of “whiner.” This can be especially true in the workplace, where negative emotions are often deemed to be inappropriate. Yet we can carry this professional limitation home with us, or to church, or even to our communication with God.

The Bible describes instances of whining. In Numbers 11, for example, the people of Israel are unhappy with their life outside of Egypt, so they start whining, much to God’s displeasure (11:10).

Notice, though, that whining is not the same as grieving. Whining is petty complaining. It’s going on and on about something that really isn’t all that important. Whining is not lamentation, which is deep grieving over acute devastation and suffering. What we read in Lamentations 2:11, for example, is not whining, but profound mourning: “My eyes are worn out from weeping; my stomach is churning. My insides are poured on the ground because the daughter of my people is shattered, because children and babies are fainting in the city streets.”

Scripture teaches us to avoid self-centered, trivial, petulant whining. But it also gives us ample permission to express our genuine grief with freedom. Indeed, as we read in Ecclesiastes 3:4, there is “a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing.”

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you feel about whining? Do you ever find yourself whining? If so, when? Does your fear of being a whiner keep you from expressing genuine grief at home, at church, or even at work? What is the difference between unacceptable whining and appropriate lamentation?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, surely the example of Lamentations doesn’t give us permission to whine, to engage in endless, petty, self-centered complaining. It’s no surprise, as we see in Numbers 11, that the whining of your people angers you.

Yet, I must confess, Lord, that my reasonable reticence to whine sometimes spills over into an unreasonable resistance to express genuine grief. Lamentations encourages me to let you know when I’m suffering, when I’m disappointed, when sorrow fills my heart. Thank you for reminding me that I can freely grieve in your presence without becoming a whiner.

Help your church, Lord, to be a place where people learn to grieve in a free and healthy manner. Teach us to weep with those who weep, even as we rejoice with those who rejoice. Amen.

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