The ultimate stain remover

An encounter with laundry helped reveal how to break a bad habit.

The TV program "Saturday Night Live" used to have a comedy sketch about a family called "the Whiners," who whined about everything. The context provided a humorous perspective on a graceless character trait that's unpleasant for the one complaining and for those who have to listen to it.

Complaining is a character stain that I felt was so ingrained in my nature that I wondered if it could ever be removed. I would resolve over and over to do better. A few years ago after a particularly forthright performance review at work, guess what? On the list of ways in which I needed to improve was to stop complaining. My best efforts weren't enough. I knew it would take something as powerful as divine help to rid me of this trait. And God's help is what I turned to.

I began to see that habitual complaining can make one so convinced that God's goodness is absent or lost that it actually hides present good. I began to look more diligently for the good around me and to accept it joyfully. The complaining became less vocal, but I still didn't feel totally free of it.

Then I had an experience that gave me a whole new view of character "stains." My favorite shirt got fruit stains on it, which I tried unsuccessfully to remove with cotton swabs and bleach. Only after soaking the shirt in water and bleach all day did the stains disappear.

It occurred to me that stains on one's character may need similar handling. Real freedom comes only through full immersion in the ongoing cleansing action of Spirit – in a sense, baptism. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, described baptism this way: "Purification by Spirit; submergence in Spirit" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 581).

I've realized that it isn't enough to try to wipe away what I don't like about myself with the premise that I'm subject to a fallible human nature that governs and controls me. Instead, I need to submerge myself in Spirit – to start with the premise that Spirit, God, has created me as wholly spiritual, not a mixture of material and spiritual elements. Only as I put my whole being – impulses, thoughts, desires, and motives – under God's direction, have I felt complaining has no power to define me. It has been naturally fading away.

Not long ago, I was living in a renovated warehouse where the soundproofing was less than adequate. At first I wanted to whine about the music and voices next door and below me, which seemed as if they were in my apartment.

My prayer was to be shown more clearly that the Godlike idea of home was complete to the smallest detail. Each of us living there was created by God, and there was space for each one to express his or her Godlike individuality without disturbing another. If our serenity and freedom from intrusion come from God, then they can't be lost.

Trusting the integrity and thoughtfulness of the owners, I decided to tell them my concerns. A written notice was posted, asking for everyone's consideration, and there was open communication among us about these concerns. My next-door neighbor apologized for several noisy episodes, and the man who lived below me was gone for the last five months of my lease. I stopped complaining and became willing to watch Spirit bring a solution to light.

Although it sometimes takes great consecration, self-purification naturally removes elements from thought that are unlike God. Submerging my thought in gratitude and appreciation for the good that surrounds me, along with the willingness to stop griping, has opened me up to the cleansing activity of Spirit, which has no room for complaining.

I still wrestle with complaining at times, but I see ever more clearly that it doesn't constitute my nature. If you are dealing with a character "stain" in your life, don't focus on the stain. Instead, let your whole being be submerged in the purifying action of Spirit, and it will wipe that stain away.

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