I realized a terrible thing recently. My formerly happy heart is grumbly. A quick look back at old blog posts (in anticipation of something to transfer to the new website), revealed a sense of celebration reflected in my writing. Although I wrote about pretend birthday celebrations yesterday, the excitement of days past is not an all-pervasive feeling lately.

Joy turned to grumbling.

I’m not sure when waning excitement turned to grumbling. A lot happened in the last year, not all of it pleasant. Weeks spent in the Middle East. A respiratory illness after the first trip that hung on for months. I coughed my way through spring. Then, there was Sam and the long season of caregiving that kept me inside all summer long. Exhaustion. Holidays. Cornea problems. The long, hard roll-out of the new website. Beautiful, but a big learning curve. Add in a few disappointments along the way, and, before I realized it, my joy de vivre faded into a vague sense of not-quite-happy.

Maybe you’ve been here, too. Life kicks you in the teeth and you get back up, but it kicks you again. Every trip back up seems a little harder, takes a little longer. The struggle is real, isn’t it? It’s all too easy to enter a cycle of grumbling that never ends.

Easy doesn’t mean right.

The Hebrews discovered God’s view of grumbling, and it didn’t take long. They begged God to take note of their suffering in Egypt. He finally sent a deliverer. Millions of God’s people left Egypt, a land decimated by plagues, with the best of the land — gold, silver, jewels, leather, fabrics.

The excitement of travel and adventure soon faded. Food stores ran low so they grumbled. (Exodus 16:2-4) God provided manna but they tired of it and grumbled again. God sent the meat they demanded, but it wasn’t the blessing they expected. On and on it went. God blessed, they rejoiced for a season, but soon tired and grumbled again. The people lived in an endless cycle of complaining.

Complaining becomes a habit.

Complaining became a way of life. Moses grew sick of it and God did, too. Lately, though I don’t often express my complaints aloud, they ring in my heart far too often. I’m sick of my own complaints. I’m pretty sure God is, too.

Am I the only one with complaints and grumbling in my heart? Judging by my social media news feed, I’m probably not. 

The high price of grumbling

Grumbling and complaining spill over into every part of our lives. They cast a pall over even the sweetest times and leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, no matter the circumstances. They rob us of joy and steals our contentment.

Discontent isn’t limited to lives of uncertain financial stability, nor to those who grieve or experience unexpected tragedy.  Some of the most financially secure people I know are dissatisfied and desperately lonely. The hope of heaven is sufficient to sustain those who mourn the death of loved ones and blessings are found, even in the midst dire tragedy.

How to regain joy

My perusal of old excitement-filled blog posts revealed the secret to joy: Gratitude. During November a few years ago, I wrote about “the unexpectedly grateful heart” every day that month. I found something positive, something to be grateful for on a daily basis, then celebrated it in words, both spoken and written, and in thanksgiving to God. By the end of the month, I felt awed by the number of blessings in my life.

My joy grew as I thanked God for all His blessings, both big and small. I learned an important principle that month: It’s hard to grumble when your mind is focused on all the good things in life

If we want a happy heart, we must choose it.

After Ezra read the book of the law to the recently-returned exiles, the people wept in sorrow for their sins. He and Nehemiah spoke to the people. (Leanna paraphrase coming up) “This is a holy day. Don’t weep. Instead, rejoice in all God has done. It’s time to celebrate.” Then, he spoke beautiful words we do well to remember.

The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Nehemiah’s formula was simple.

  • acknowledge your sorrow
  • dry your tears
  • choose joy
  • celebrate the blessings of God
  • gain strength

It’s that simple. It’s that hard. If we want a happy heart, we must choose it, dry our tears, stop our grumbling, and decide to move past our sorrow, our dissatisfaction, our disappointment.

Nehemiah was right. When I tired of my grumbling and made the decision to move past it, I traded grumbling for thanksgiving and rejoicing. I chose joy. When I did, my strength and happy heart returned.

Transformation is one bent knee, one sacrifice of thanksgiving away.

Do we want happy hearts? Start by thanking God for all He’s given. Joy will follow, and so will strength.

“It’s time to celebrate, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

You might also enjoy: The Pretend Birthday and the Celebration of Life