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Originally published March 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM | Page modified March 16, 2013 at 12:12 PM

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Let us rejoice in our blessings, not wallow in our hardships

There are fundamental differences between being honest about the struggles of life with a trusted friend or family member and being a chronic complainer.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Faith & Values

Big eyes shone earnestly from her tiny face as she made the proposal to her amused baby-sitter, our oldest daughter, Kristi, who was a teen at the time.

I came upon the scene as Kristi examined the skinned knee of the rambunctious 4-year-old who had been left in her charge for the afternoon. A stumble while playing in the backyard led to an examination of the knee, which, after being cleaned, revealed only a minor scratch with the skin barely broken.

But little Laurie of the injured knee wanted a Band-Aid to wear home as a trophy of her tumble, even though Kristi was sure it wouldn’t stay on for more than a few minutes.

“Look, Laurie,” Kristi reasoned. “Your knee just got a little scrape. It’s not even bleeding, see? So I don’t think a Band-Aid will help this time.”

That’s when Laurie got creative in her determination to acquire the dubious prize. Hmmm ... no blood, no bandage. “We could squeeze it!” she insisted brightly, as if she’d just solved one of life’s most perplexing puzzles.

That memory from many years ago still makes me chuckle, but lately I’ve wondered if I’m more like little Laurie of the skinned knee than I care to admit. How often do I relish the role of the injured innocent, wanting a trophy for bearing the cuts and scrapes that come from those inevitable tumbles onto one of life’s sharp edges from time to time?

Is it possible that I sometimes squeeze my “hardship of the day” so that my husband, or friend (or anyone within earshot or cellphone range), will offer a big bandage of sympathy — one I hope will cover my bruised ego or justify my grumpy mood?

There are fundamental differences between being honest with a trusted friend or family member about the struggles of life and being a chronic complainer. The former falls under the category of “bearing one another’s burdens” (which Galatians 6:2 says helps us to fulfill the law of Christ). Burden bearing is solution-oriented, mutually compassionate and open to encouragement, taking into account the truth that no one has an easy life.

The latter is a Jacuzzi spa of self-pity, and no solution or movement toward encouragement is welcome in these “woe is me” waters. It’s all “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen; never mind what you may be going through — I don’t want to hear about that.”

In terms even a 4-year-old like Laurie would’ve understood, it’s all Eeyore and no Tigger. Though grumblers might not actually voice the words “we could squeeze it,” their attitudes and actions say they intend to squeeze every last drop of drama and misery out of each current dilemma.

The Bible has a lot to say about complaining. I sometimes wish it didn’t. If you read the book of Exodus, you’ll see complaining got a lot of people into deep trouble on their way from Egypt to Canaan. And in the New Testament, Philippians 2:14 (New Living Translation) says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” James 5:9 (NLT) says, “Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.” Ephesians 4:29 (New International Version) is pretty clear: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

In this season of Lent, observed by Christians around the world, many Christ followers have given up something as an act of self-denial and a means of fine-tuning their devotion toward God in preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. But I’m wondering if we’d be better off to give up complaining instead of chocolate — although I think a lot of us would rather decline a Hershey bar than forgo the right to grumble.

I wonder how different things might be if, instead of squeezing our troubles to elicit sympathy, we grabbed our blessings and squeezed them for all they’re worth.

What if, instead of complaining about our jobs, we were thankful for a way to earn a living?

What if, instead of grumbling about our spouses or kids, we thanked God for the gift of family, which teaches us so much about what really matters — and comes with a lifetime of loving in which to work out the tangles and knots?

What if, instead of focusing on what we’ve lost along the way, we concentrated on what we’ve learned along the way?

What if, instead of being eaten alive by guilt and remorse for our past mistakes and sins, we grabbed hold of the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father, forgive them,” and squeezed the grace He offers with all our hearts?

We all have hardships and blessings. The question is, which one will I squeeze. I’ve decided joy is better than a Band-Aid on any day ... even the hard ones that skin my knees.

Jodi Detrick is a minister with the Northwest Ministry Network (Assemblies of God). She is also a public speaker, an author and a life coach. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com.

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