Toward a complaint-free life

First published as an editorial in the Christian Science Sentinel

Businesses don't get to zero-defect production by starting with a defects-happen attitude. Similarly, the human family won't get to complaint-liberated living by dismissing it as mission impossible. Getting there involves both mental discipline and spiritual growth, which begin with accepting the idea that human life is perfectible - always capable of betterment.

To those who spend their working lives in offices, at retail businesses, or on production lines, the whole notion of the workday as a complaint-free zone still could sound ridiculous.

It's easy to find plenty to complain about, starting with the work of getting to work, static pay, adverse working conditions, soaring workloads, relationship issues, and workspace concerns. Clerical personnel in the United States actually lost about 5 percent of their office space from 1994 to 2002, due to office downsizing. And did we mention the weather, outside and inside?

According to the International Facility Management Association, first on the list of employee complaints is a workplace that's too cold. Second? It's too hot.

Facility engineers say that those two complaints aren't always seasonal. And they can come from people working in the same office. Office workers might say to the HVAC engineer, "OK, sit an hour in my draft."

The point is, complaints often come from somewhere personal - from personal likes and dislikes, sensitivities and insensitivities, digs and hurts. Although the reasons for complaining often seem beyond our control, the impetus for complaining can be inward and self-focused. Aren't the most uncomplaining individuals those who are least concerned with themselves and their personal situations?

In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," the primary how-to book on Christian Science healing, Christ Jesus is described as having "held uncomplaining guard over [the] world" (page 48). It's hard to imagine Jesus pausing during a long night of prayer to complain that the night air was a bit chilly. He was too busy caring for humanity to complain.

The author of Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy, refers to Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing, as someone who could work long hours, as she did during the Crimean War, without collapsing, because she was moved by compassion for suffering soldiers.

Those examples aren't out of reach. They're models worth emulating.

A colleague recalls a moment several years ago when New England's winter weather was giving him plenty to complain about. He was on his way back to the office after lunch, with super-chilled air slicing through his coat as he fought through the virtual wind tunnel near the office entrance. He realized that he could either curse the cold, or he could love more - love the moment, the place, others who were struggling against the same wind, even love winter itself.

That moment wasn't his final weather complaint, but it was the end of unexamined complaining. Practical things helped, such as dressing more intelligently for cold days. But the more important moves were mental - giving less thought to weather's drama, praying more consistently about his inner mental climate, and looking for evidence of God's presence in every situation - practicing love as a Science rather than a random happening.

Science in its spiritual practice involves discovering the underlying truth and goodness of everything and everyone. And scientific prayer - far from being a wishful or blind-faith response to challenges, small or large - affirms what is spiritually true. Healing often begins with awakening to the realness and certainty of God's goodness and perfect creating, and consequently, to the weightlessness of whatever prompted the complaint.

The Bible's Psalmist prayed, "Deliver me ... that there be no complaining in our streets," and concluded, "Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord" (Ps. 144:11, 14, 15).

If the root meaning of complain is lament, its surest remedy is the pure happiness of waking up to God's presence and care. Psalm-like praying doesn't try to will away something bad, but rather it gives way to God's good will for each of us, to the fundamental supremacy of good over evil, of affection over anger, of health over disease.

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