Comfortable to Complain

We were in a long security line at the airport. We had finally gotten to the point where I started taking off my shoes and belt, when another employee called us over. “There’s an empty line over here,” she motioned.

So we followed her. But the “empty” line wasn’t so empty. To top it off, we’d ended up outside of the document checkpoint, and were instructed to have our passports and boarding passes ready for the attendant. The guy behind me quickly started commenting about how unfair it was. “We’ve already done this part!” he argued. “Why do we have to do it again?”

Suddenly, I found myself joining in with, “This line was supposed to be shorter, and I already put our documents away in my bags.” Another man expressed his concern as well before finally the attendant reprimanded us. After that we still grumbled, but a lot quieter.

When we’d passed the document checkpoint and started putting our bags on the conveyer belt, my daughter hissed at me, “I can’t believe you were complaining like that! It was embarrassing!”

In an oh-so-proud-mommy-moment, I sneered back, “How dare you, of all people, tell me to stop complaining!”

I could tell you I had just spent three hours driving us to the airport, along roads I’ve never before traveled, after almost a week of being a single parent, and was letting the exhaustion get the better of me. But in reality I was reeling from the fact that my daughter called me out on something that was totally legitimate. In fact, I spent the next hour sitting in the airport trying to digest what had happened and why it bothered me so much.

In talking about it shortly thereafter, she told me I complain a lot less in Nicaragua, which is ironic because I often feel like I have a lot more to complain about, seeing as how everything is so foreign to me. As she continued, I felt as if I was punched in the gut: she is worried I will be a less joyful person when we move back to the U.S. full time.

What I realized about myself through this encounter is equally as humbling as my daughter’s initial rebuke. You want to know why I complain less outside my passport country? The answer is surprisingly simple: because I can’t. First, I don’t have the Spanish fluency skills to do a whole lot of complaining here. Second, I’ve learned complaining as a foreigner doesn’t do much good. Get a traffic ticket and want to fight it? Good luck. Just have to pay it and move on, even if you disagree with the reason behind it.

This is not my home.

These laws are not my own. This culture is not my own.  This land is not my own.

Fairly quickly after moving here, I decided to stop fighting what I couldn’t fix.  The point is that while in the company of people whose language I don’t fluently speak, I’ve developed a habit of listening more and speaking less. (I am an ENFP/ENTP hybrid, which should explain why this can be challenging for me.) It happened almost by accident, yet my kids noticed.

But somehow when I landed back in my passport country, all that listen-more-talk-less stuff was thrown out the window. I didn’t realize I was doing that until my daughter brought it to my attention. Ouch. While it was really uncomfortable to confront this truth, I don’t want to live like that!

I think this is just another example of how we — as Christ followers — are called to live differently. Sure, as a U.S. citizen I have certain unalienable rights. Although complaining about what we are entitled to seems to be about as American as apple pie these days, this is not my home! Ultimately, my true citizenship is in heaven, which means I am subject to the laws of that King. And His Word dictates that I have no rights except that which the Holy Spirit places upon my life.

To put it another way, do I have a right to a quick security line? Nope. But wait! Don’t we all have a right for employees to do their jobs? And don’t I have a right to good customer service? Perhaps — in a worldly sense — but I am not responsible for other peoples’ behavior. When I stand in front of the Throne on Judgement Day, I will not be called to explain how I made sure other people did their jobs… I will, however, be responsible for the words that came out of my mouth, and the actions of my heart.

Jesus died, so you and I could live. He gave up all “rights” to save us, and he is supposed to be our example. So where does that leave me when I want to complain about the having to pull out my passport a second time?

It leaves me repeating once again the life goals I wrote on my wall awhile back (paying attention to the fact that “complain more” is not on the list), because I’m [still] not there yet.

My life goals