It’s OK to complain
Sunday, 11th February 2018
Pope Francis posted a sign in his house at the Vatican that reads “Complaining is not allowed!”. But in the first reading last Sunday from the Book of Job (which is really a long poem) we heard poor Job moaning and groaning: “Months of delusion I have assigned to me, nothing for my own but nights of grief. Lying on my bed I wonder ‘When will it be day” Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’ Restlessly I fret till twilight falls. Swifter than a weaver’s shuttle my days have passed and vanished, leaving no hope behind.” And he had every reason to complain. You’ve heard too of Job’s comforters who only added to his despair! Pope Francis himself often complains about Christians who complain too much, once saying we “have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life.”
I’m sure, too, there have been times in our own lives when we’ve lost heart and hope and felt like crying out to God in the same way and probably then felt guilty about it. So, it’s good to know that a third of all the prayers in the Scriptures are prayers like that, prayers of lamentation and complaint. And they are good prayers. One mother I know, told me when her daughter was dying of cancer she felt life climbing to the top of the Mourne Mountains behind their house and howling to God to intervene and do something to save her child. And good people all down the ages who took God seriously cried out like that – even Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”
But there’s great learning in all this. By suffering like this, we learn things that we couldn’t learn in any other way. A theologian put it this way: “In recognising the jagged edges of human existence and the awful ambiguity of living and dying, we begin to understand what it means to hope against hope. Human hopes arise out of a stubborn refusal to give way in the face of so much evil and suffering, out of an extraordinary ability to begin again and again after being touched by tragedy. These hopes, though fragile, are a persistent and universal experience of the human spirit.” A poet said the same thing but far more simply:
“There is an old woman who shuffles along/ With a jug for a pint of beer / Almost oblivious, / Seeking oblivion. / Her hair is in plastic curlers under an old tweed cap. Her face is the poor face of someone drowned in the sea.
She has never been young/ And her mind is numb/ And she does not see, / She only floats to the surface, /A terrible accusation to me.
A poor drowned bloated face / Floating up from a sea/ Of accepted misery. /And I / Who lower my eyes for shame /As I go by, / Am more ashamed / Because I wonder why / Despair troubles to curl her hair.” – Woman with a Jug. By Caryll Houselander
Why does Despair trouble to curl her hair? You could say ‘force of habit’ or ‘vanity’ or you could say it’s the spark of the divine in us! In that poor, drowned, bloated human being, hope still battles with despair and hope can still win out!