Wait, there’s joy to be found in complaining?!

I’ve noticed recently a tendency of people in my community to do a lot of complaining. Nothing is off limits — leadership style, business decisions, house color — and it’s bringing everyone down.

Even me.

I like the optimistic side of life. I function better if I choose joy even if things are kinda crummy. I am not called to be a complainer. Yet, the influence of this spate of complaining has been a doozy.

I happened to talk to a neighbor the other day in passing and mentioned that complaining seemed to be undermining so much of the genuine good in our community.

His response: “You know what the opposite of complaining is, right? It’s gratitude.”

This sent me down a little bit of a rabbit hole. The thesaurus affirms my editor’s instinct that gratitude is not, exactly, an antonym of complaining.

But one antonym is rejoicing, and rejoicing has a huge element of gratitude.

Not only that, it also has a huge element of faith.

Complaining is a pretty serious thing. When the Jews wandering in the desert complained about terrible food for days on end — when in fact they would otherwise have had nothing at all — God’s reply was not different food, but fiery serpents which he then had to work out a way to save them from (Numbers 21). I am certain this is not the outcome the Jews expected.

Faced with the snake-bite alternative, I’d be perfectly OK with repetitive food, and, indeed, as a reluctant cook, rejoice that the food materialized without human effort whatsoever.

Early followers of Christ had serious things to complain about — being killed, being made fun of, being outlawed — and through faith, they didn’t complain, but rejoiced (Romans 5). This remains the case for many Christians today, something seen even as recently as right now in Afghanistan.

Counting every blessing sometimes means rejoicing over things that don’t look like blessings at all — or maybe, like the manna in the desert, they were blessings at first, but they grew to feel like burdens or problems.

With this in mind, I have decided to face the complaints with an attitude of gratitude. This isn’t a big community — there’s no escaping, just finding a way to deal. Not only that, complaining doesn’t have to be part of a community’s culture to still have a role in the social cycle. A lot of the complaints have come about in cases where the focus has moved away from a genuinely good situation to its few flaws, real or perceived.

The trouble with complaining is that the complainer has sights set on a positive outcome, but the negative consequence of complaining has the potential to be very bad — undermine-the-organization bad, damage-the-relationships bad, fiery-serpent bad.

How does this relate to harvest? Incredibly enough, the day after having that conversation with the neighbor, I sat in the silage truck and thought of so many ways right off the top of my head that I really wish I’d had some way to write them down.

(I’m not good at writing and driving a silage truck simultaneously. Also, I don’t recommend it. Seems less than safe.)

I’ll share a couple ways, but this is by no means a shallow well. Our farm’s silage harvest is a short season, but it somehow also gives a person a lot of time to think.

Here’s one to start. We had a scheduling mishap with the co-op this spring, and the weeds didn’t get sprayed in a timely manner. It’s been humbling — maybe make that downright embarrassing — to watch the pigweed get taller than the corn in places. Not good.

If this field were to go for grain, those pigweeds would be an enormous headache. But if we chop those weeds and ensile them with the corn, the breeding cows will eat that right up. It’s fine. Not perfect, but fine.

Who would have anticipated the irritation with the herbicide applicator would flip to an asset of sorts? Certainly not me.

Another silage harvest hidden blessing: We don’t have a truck of our own. But, the truck a nearby farm family kindly loans to us is the same model I drove for Heil Harvesting when I was a high school and college student. This means that once a year for four or five days, I can climb aboard and operate the thing like I last ran it yesterday instead of 20 years ago.

Do not underestimate the value of muscle memory gained as a young adult. It’s also gratifying that a skill I learned as a wheat-harvest kid turns out to be handy as a cow-calf man’s wife.

That brings me to a blessing that is simply that: A blessing. My husband and I work together very well. It’s a little odd because we each learned our outdoor and mechanical skills from our dads, who have dramatically different styles. But we can work together successfully for many hours at a stretch, which is a tremendous gift.

So, where’s the joy in complaints? The joy is in revealing opportunities to rejoice.

If I relentlessly face everything with rejoicing, I’ll surely be able to keep an even keel in the face of others’ complaints, and the complainers will not only have no effect on me, they might see there’s an alternative.

And if they see that, perhaps also another purpose will be achieved, and they will also see the joy that is found in Christ.

Editor’s note: This post previously appeared in the October issue of Harvest News, the U.S. Custom Harvesters, Inc., trade association newsletter.

P.S. — I highly recommend the podcast “Where’s the Joy in That?” by Gareth Gilkeson and Chris Llewellyn of the band Rend Collective.

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