A couple of weeks ago, I received an anonymous email stating that I’d “hurt a fellow brother in Christ” due to “[my] actions regarding his choices”. The fact that I have no idea who I’m alleged to have hurt or what I’m alleged to have done notwithstanding, the email caused me to think quite a bit.
As I’ve thought about it on various occasions over the past few weeks, there are two things I keep coming back to. First, it’s interesting to me what people will write when their name isn’t attached to something. I was talking with Seth, who told the story of a preacher who received a letter in the mail with only the word “fool” on it. “I’ve had a lot of people send me letters and forget to write their name,” he quipped, “but this is the first time I’ve ever had someone write their name and forget to write the letter.” A policy I’ve inherited from multiple mentors is that anonymous complaints are best sent straight to the circular file. The sad commentary, I think, is that we are willing to write things without our names attached that we would never write if people knew it was us. One of the challenging things about writing on this space for the past two years has been that everyone out there knows it’s me, and has a direct line of fire this direction.
The more important point of the story, at least for me, is that the person who wrote the email, despite their assertion to the contrary, didn’t really want to solve the problem. While I generally don’t respond to anonymous complaints, I did write a brief note back stating that I would be more than happy to apologize and make the situation right, but I had no idea how to do that. As expected, I have yet to receive a response. There are dozens of ways the situation could have been improved, and almost all of them involve coming to me personally. The real issue, though, is not pointing the finger at my anonymous critic, but myself.
How many times am I exactly this way? Often, I am faced with something I don’t like, and my first instinct is to complain about it, even when an easy solution is at hand. It will be late at night, I won’t have any food in the house that can be made quickly, and, talking to a friend, I’ll say that I’m hungry. “Go get something to eat,” comes the response. “That requires that I get up and get my car keys/walk into the kitchen/expend some effort… I don’t want to do that – I just want to complain about it.”
I just want to complain about it. How true. How often are there situations in my life when my first response is to complain before doing anything to fix the problem? I’m reminded of a story in John 5 where Jesus comes to a man who’s been an invalid for years and asks him this simple question: “Do you want to be healed?” Instead of answering the question, the man quickly starts making excuses, causing me to question whether he really wants to be healed or just wants to complain.
I think the main lesson I’ve taken from this episode is that when confronted with a situation I don’t particularly like or am upset about, I want to make a renewed effort to be a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. I don’t want to stand there while someone offers to fix the problem, and turn them away, preferring simply to complain.