The Joy of Grumbling
August 10, 2009
By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
When Michelangelo had completed his famous piece of sculpture on King David, the Gonfaloniere Soderini of Florence who had ordered it came to inspect his purchase. Among his many complaints and criticisms of the sculpture, he grumbled the most about the nose. He said, “It’s too big. It doesn’t fit the statue. David didn’t have such a big nose.”
So he insisted that Michelangelo do a nose job on the statue and reduce its size. Michelangelo knew that he had no choice, but hated to deface his masterpiece. So he mounted the scaffold of the 12 foot high figure, and giving a few noisy but harmless blows with his hammer on the stone, he let fall a handful of marble dust which he had scraped up from the floor below. “Wonderful”, said his critic. “You have given it life indeed”. His critic was so excited about the improvement that Michelangelo received a major financial bonus for the improvement.
Grumbling can become so compulsive that we actually begin to get a certain “joy” from it. But grumbling always ends up destroying the very things we most want out of life. That is why the Bible says “Don’t grumble against each other, or you will be judged.” What is grumbling anyways? The Concise Oxford Dictionary tells us that to grumble is to growl faintly, to murmur, to complain. In essence, a grumble is a dull inarticulate sound.
Grumbling is a very hard addiction to break. is fed by two very powerful sub addictions: self pity and self righteousness. We grumble because we are convinced that we are being hard done by and that it just isn’t fair. The truth is that all of us struggle with grumbling. I know in my own life that I can slip into it far too easily. I just caught myself a while ago slipping into self pity and self righteousness, and I started to laugh at myself, because I realized that all grumbling is self deception. I said to myself “Oh no, the day is ruined.” But then I forced myself to apologize and say that I was sorry for my grumbling, and I ended up having a good day.”
I am convinced that the cure for grumbling is humbling … humbling ourselves before our spouse, our children, our friends, our neighbours… confessing our bad attitude and asking their forgiveness. Far too many divorces can be traced to the addiction of grumbling. Paul J. Getty, one of the wealthiest billionaires in the world, was reported in the press to have said “I’d give all my wealth for just one happy marriage.” Grumbling is not a harmless pastime. It is a deadly cancer that kills far more people than all other diseases combined. To grumble about another person is to both judge and condemn them. There is only one person in the world who has it together enough to judge others fairly and that is Jesus. That is why Jesus said “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Only Jesus fully knows how to judge without being judgmental, how to judge us without condemning us.
My prayer for each reader is that any tendency to grumbling or judgmentalism in our lives will be replaced by a deepening love of neighbour.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector, BSW, MDiv, DMin
Rector, St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-author of the award-winning book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’