The smell hit me in full force as soon as I walked in the door. We were returning from a spur-of-the-moment overnight trip to the beach, and we were all hot, tired, sandy, and greasy from sunscreen. All I really wanted to do was take a long shower, give the kids a bath, and put everyone to bed. But that was not meant to be. It didn’t take me long to realize what the awful smell was. Our dogs had left us a lovely package in their cage, which was smeared all over the place, hardened by now, making for unpleasant cleanup at best. So rather than get that nice long shower I’d been dreaming about, I found myself on my hands and knees scrubbing out their cage. Welcome home.
It had been a hectic trip as it was. We’d left the day before, later than intended, and then a detour along the way set us back even further. The older kids had a blast at the beach on the Gulf of Mexico, but our toddler was all over the place, everywhere but the water. Keeping up with him on a crowded beach was challenging, and he quickly reached his limit long before the other kids. That evening, we treated the kids to a gourmet dinner of McDonald’s and decided on a whim to stay overnight in a hotel so we could go back to the beach the following day. But we hadn’t packed anything for an overnight trip- no change of clothes, no toiletries, no pack and play- nothing. And the hotel didn’t have an extra crib available. Or even a measly bottle of shampoo. So all seven of us crammed into one room, took showers without washing our hair so we could at least rinse the sand off, put our dirty clothes back on, and fought over who got to sleep where. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that no one had a terribly restful night. With the baby on the bed between us, sleep was difficult for my husband and me, and the early wake-up time for the baby meant an early rising for all of us. We dragged ourselves to the continental breakfast, where I choked down a cup of coffee that was just sub-par, and we changed into our still-wet bathing suits again, loaded up our still-wet towels, and went back to the beach to do it all again. On our drive home, the baby got a mere 15 minute nap, and by the time we all made it back home, we were exhausted, only to be greeted by the mess from our dogs.
A few hours later, when everyone was finally bathed and in bed, and the dog cage scoured out, I sank onto my own bed to finish a book I’d started on the drive. It was a fictionalized account of Moses and Aaron, detailing the journey of the Israelites through their desert wanderings. I’m not gonna lie to you, those Israelites got pretty annoying. No matter what happened, they complained. Again and again and again. They whined about the route they were taking in the wilderness. They longed for the food of Egypt. They complained about the manna. Despite God continually providing for them, they cried out that they were going to die of thirst when water was scarce. Even though they’d witnessed the plagues and God’s deliverance of them at the Red Sea, they still cried out in fear at the description of the Canaanites when the spies reported back, doubting that God could save them. In short, nothing was ever good enough for them. All they could see was the inconvenience of the moment.
Suddenly the realization hit me that if someone were to chronicle my thoughts during our overnight trip- or, honestly, my thoughts at any given time- they’d find a pattern not unlike those ancient Israelites. On our trip I rolled my eyes at the detour we were forced to take. I longed for a homemade meal. Even though I got a large cup of McDonald’s coffee later in the day, I grumbled about the weak hotel coffee that morning. Despite God providing us with a place to stay, I whined that the hotel didn’t have shampoo available. Even though I’d witnessed firsthand God’s creative power and majesty of the ocean, I complained about getting sand all over the car. In short, nothing was good enough for me. All I could see was the inconvenience of the moment.
Truth be told, I felt a slight camaraderie with the Israelites at the unpleasant realization. In a small way I felt a connection with them, because I knew how they must have felt day in and day out. Wandering in a desert, undoubtedly they were constantly covered with sweat and sand, with greasy hair to boot. I knew the feeling. And it’s really hard to be cheerful when you feel hot and grubby. It’s hard to look on the bright side of things when you haven’t had a decent shower for two days. I can’t imagine how the Israelites felt after, say, 40 years in the wilderness without regular baths.
As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m pretty good at grumbling. Give me a situation and I can find the negative side of it. And I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. It seems to be part of human nature to grumble about what we don’t have, rather than being grateful for what we do have. There are people in other parts of the world, and even people here in America, who regularly go hungry, yet if the grocery store is out of my favorite cereal, I heave a sigh as I toss another box of cereal in my overflowing cart. Despite the fact that my five children are all perfectly normal and healthy, I get easily irritated with them when they misbehave or make messes. Even though I know there are people in the world who live in crowded slums in abject poverty, I take for granted the fact that my family has a house of our own, complete with electricity, heat, and (far more important for Texas) air conditioning. I realize there are Christians in other countries who are persecuted for their faith, yet I complain about my childrens’ behavior in church rather than giving thanks for freedom to worship. I’m telling ya, I can find the cloud to every silver lining.
The Bible tells us in Philippians 2:14 to “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.” That’s a favorite verse in this household. My children have copied it on more than one occasion, and I love to remind them of those words often. But I need the constant reminder just as much as they do. Paul also exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Ahem. “All” circumstances, Paul? That seems a bit steep. But he wrote those words under divine inspiration. God knows we need the reminder, because He knows how easily we are distracted by minor inconveniences and tempted to grumble rather than giving thanks.
So how does this play out in practical terms? It doesn’t take long for me to find a way to put this into practice. That stack of dirty dishes on the counter can be a chance to thank God that we have never gone hungry. The monumental stack of laundry reminds me that we can afford to properly clothe our children. Even though our tile floor is always gritty, at least we have a real floor rather than a dirt floor, and we do have a decent broom and a steam mop, even if they don’t get as much use as they should. When my kids come in the house fighting, I need to remind myself that they’ve been playing nicely together for the past hour outside, getting fresh air and exercise. And at the very least, if I truly can’t see any good in a particular situation, I can always thank God that life on this sinful earth is not the end. In short, I need to retrain my thinking. Constantly. And I can only do this with God’s help. On my own, I will always gravitate toward the downside of any situation. But with God to help me, I can see the blessings He offers and thank Him accordingly. Even in the midst of an overnight trip to the beach.