Does God Listen to Whining?

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 4.06.32 PMMy secretary had a rough life, no doubt about it. Work was a place of relief from that difficult life, for sure.

She viewed me as a safe person, as someone who she knew would keep what she told me to myself, and she knew I’d listen and nod my head.

She knew instinctively that I was empathetic to her struggles.

The thing is she had so much pain and angst to get out of her system after the weekends! Just listening to her I felt like I’d been run over by a train. Poor woman.

Poor me. It took a lot out of me on Monday mornings. I cared, really I did but…

Though I still listened with as much compassion as I could muster, after awhile I grew weary. I began to dread our Monday morning chats because it was so much work.

I had developed what is called compassion fatigue. You may have felt it, too.

There are folks who genuinely have very difficult lives, folks to whom we want to listen, but also folks who take so much out of us that we risk losing our sense of empathy or even concern.

Save me, God,
because the waters have reached  my neck!
                                 Psalm 69:1 CEB

***

When I’m struggling emotionally, I worry that I become too cranky, too self-focused, and too-whiny. I don’t want to wear out friends or my wife with my emotions.

I don’t want to complain about the petty, inconsequential things in life but I find myself seeing the bad all around me.

I lack a sense of hope.

When I’m having a rough time I fear that those around me will become overwhelmed by my emotions.

I wonder if I’ve just become whiny and I don’t want to be whiny so…

So, except with those closest to me, I become non-emotional or quiet or short. It’s a coping mechanism of my mind that says, “people won’t love me if I’m whiny.”

I have sunk into deep mud.
My feet can’t touch the bottom!
I have entered deep water;
the flood has swept me up
Psalm 69:2 CEB

***

Which begs the question: Does God listen to whining?

Before I answer the question, I think it is helpful to parse out the differences between whining or complaining and lamenting.

Whining tends to have little purpose. It doesn’t change things. It doesn’t  relieve us of the feelings of hurt, pain, angst, and sadness. Neither does it improve our lot.

In fact, whining and complaint often just makes us feel worse.

I am tired of crying.
My throat is hoarse….
Psalm 69:3a CEB

What of lament, then? Lament is just as negative as whines or complaints.

Lament is sometimes even more dark because it focuses on our real pain. Whereas complaints and whining are often superficial and have nothing to do with that core pain.

For example, in my marriage whining and complaining is about who did the dishes or how the clothes are folded or even who eats the last banana.

Complaining is rarely REALLY about the dishes or the clothes or even the last banana. The complaining is just a symptom of a deeper feeling such as feeling neglected or lonely.

Lament is about those feelings of neglect or loneliness.

More numerous than the hairs
on my head
are those who hate me for no reason.

My treacherous enemies,
those who would destroy me,
are countless.

Must I now give back
what I didn’t steal in the first
place?
Psalm 69:4 CEB

In my home a lament is, “I hate that we have to split our lives between two cities. I am so tired of missing you when we’re apart.”

A complaint or whine is, “Why don’t you do things the way I do them? You’re not here half the time!”

See the difference? Both are the result of the same feeling. The whining and complaint do nothing to help.

Lament, however, moves the conversation forward. It allows us to think and discuss ways to make our far-apart jobs sustainable as we both answer God’s Call.

At the very least, lament is honest. At its best lament is focused on trust in God in the midst of the journey.

Ann Voskamp makes the distinction between lament and whining or complaining this way,

“Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty.

Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father’s heart.” Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Lament is intertwined with trust and hope in God. Hymns of lamentation make up about one-third ONE-THIRD of the book of Psalms. These were written by people facing particularly difficult times.

LORD God of heavenly forces!—
don’t let those who hope in you
be put to shame because of me.

God of Israel!—
don’t let those who seek you
be disgraced because of me.
Psalm 69:8 CEB

I think the existence of so many hymns of lament in our Bible is testament to the belief that God does hear our cries. The laments in Psalms are witness to the faith of our ancient forebears.

Whining or complaining are often the result of feeling overwhelmed by something that has nothing to do with the way Maggie folds the towels!

But lament? Lament is about the real feelings. Lament is whining and complaining infused with trust in God.

***

[PAUSE]

But I haven’t answered the question: Does God listen to whining?

Yes. God listens to whatever we have to say. Knowing all things there are to know in the past and in the present and perceiving all there is to perceive, not only does God hear us but God feels our very feelings with us.

Recall Romans 8 that we spent three weeks with before we began our time in the Psalms?

On Pentecost we focused specifically on the role of the Holy Spirit. Hear again the Apostle Paul’s words about prayer to the Roman church,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Romans 8:26 NRSV

Paul taught that though our words to God may sound like whining or complaining, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.

Does God listen to whining?

Well, Paul seems to think so. He even implies that through the Holy Spirit, God may hear genuine lament from us if we whine in prayer.

Does God listen to whining?

Well, a third of the Psalms are laments. Clearly, in the words of J. Todd Williams, “Apparently, God can handle our complaints.” (http://www.reformation21.org/articles/lament-selfindulgent-whining-or-faithful-complaints.php)

Does God listen to whining?

Consider. If we complain or whine to God in prayer, we are expressing hope that God cares. We are trusting in our God simply by going to prayer.

But me?
My prayer reaches you, LORD,
at just the right time.
God, in your great and faithful love,
answer me with your certain
salvation! Psalm 69:13 CEB

Does God listen to whining?

Consider. Even Jesus complained — lamented to God on the cross quoting the twenty-second Psalm.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22:1a NRSV

Does God listen to whining?

God is in relationship with us whether we feel it or not. God loves us whether we like it or not. We can’t change that. We are God’s beloved.

Walter Brueggemann says that undergirding biblical lament is “a relationship between the lamenter and his God that is close and deep enough for the protester to speak in imperatives, addressing God as ‘you’ and reminding him of his covenantal promises.” http://restorationchurchdc.com/2013/03/difference-between-complaining-and-lamenting/

Does God listen to whining?

Yes. Yes. Yes. God not only listens to our words, God feels our feelings of despair, sadness, hurt, confusion, or joy.

God listens, feels, and loves us no matter what. Don’t be afraid to lay it all out there for God.

Affirmation: You are God’s beloved.
Response:  As are you.

Amen.

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament, Psalm 69, Psalm 69:1-16, Psalms, Romans, Romans 8, Romans 8:18-39, Sermon
One comment on “Does God Listen to Whining?
  1. Timiko Drew says:

    This really ministers to me. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

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All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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