A Year Without Grumbling
(Is.55:6-9; Phil.1:20-24, 27; Mt.20:1-16)
When a big family finds itself squashing into a small house, you can expect lots of grumbling.
That’s what the Goyers found when they adopted seven children. They created a family of eleven people: two parents, eight children and one grandmother with dementia. As they gradually settled in together, there was lots of emotion and plenty of noise, mess, laundry – and grumbling.
Tricia Goyer, the mother, found all this grumbling hard to take, and one day she decided: let’s aim for a year without grumbling, and she wrote about it in her book, The Grumble-Free Year.
But what is grumbling? It’s an expression of disappointment or resentment. It’s a grumpy complaint that’s not targeted anywhere specific. It’s also an attitude that can sneak up on you, so that you might not even notice that you’ve become a grumbler.
Someone once joked that on the 7th day God rested, and on the 8th day he started taking complaints, and people have been grumbling ever since. Indeed, the Israelites soon complain after escaping from Egypt, and at one point God asks Moses, ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me?’ (Num.14:26-29).
There’s grumbling in today’s Gospel, too, in Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. At 6.00 am, a landowner engages some labourers to harvest his grapes, at the standard rate of one denarius a day. Later that day he employs more workers, offering them all a fair wage.
Then at sunset he pays them, giving them all one denarius. It’s a good day’s wage, but some start grumbling. ‘That’s unfair,’ they say. ‘We’ve worked hard all day and they’ve done very little. Why are they treated the same?’
In this story, the landowner is God, the vineyard is his kingdom of love, and the message is that God is surprisingly generous. That’s what the thief on the Cross discovered; he got to enter paradise by coming to Jesus at the last possible moment in his life (Lk.23:43).
But the typical response of so many is to grumble; they think they’ve been short-changed. However, as Isaiah says in our first reading today, God’s ways aren’t our ways. God doesn’t think like we do.
In our society, we tend to take a transactional view of things: if I do this, then I expect to get that. We have lots of rules to reinforce this thinking, and we often expect even God to comply. But this is not God’s way.
Nor is grumbling the solution. Grumbling makes things unpleasant, and it separates us from God, for when we grumble, we are effectively saying that we deserve more than He is giving us. But God is always looking out for us. We might not know it at the time, but with hindsight we can often see what God has been doing in our lives.
St Therese of Lisieux understood this. ‘Everything is grace,’ she said. From the beginning of life to its end, all is grace. Indeed, everything we have is a gift from God – the sky, the moon and the air we breathe. Even our darkest moments are blessings in disguise.
Using Holy Communion as an example, St Therese said, ‘No doubt, it is a great grace to receive the sacraments. When God does not permit it, it is good too! For everything is grace!’
So, what happened to the Goyer family? Tricia Goyer said it wasn’t like pushing a magic button, but hearts and attitudes did change in their grumble-free year.
They began by learning what grumbling means and becoming aware of negativity within their family. They then identified their individual grumbling styles, and memorised some key Scripture verses about God’s blessings and human grumbling.
They also focussed on how to handle disappointment, and the importance of speaking with thankfulness and gratitude, even in difficult times. And they learned that when someone grumbled repeatedly about something, sometimes all it took was rolling up their sleeves and making a change of habit.
As well, they recognised that it’s not good to repress all grumbling, because good communication involves sharing what’s deep in our hearts. For grumbling is essentially a heart issue, and no-one can change everything on their own.
The Goyer family learnt that God provides where we cannot, and that His presence is strength where we are weak and undone. They also found that God loves us amid our mess, and He transforms it into beauty.
The lessons they learned about God, faith and attitude, Tricia said, were better than she could have ever imagined. [i]
So, why not aim for a year without grumbling at your place?
[i] Tricia Goyer, The Grumble-Free Year. Nelson Books, Nashville, 2019.