Whines of the Bible
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?'” – Exodus 14:10-11
The setting: eight church folks sitting outside on a Northern California patio, drinking a nice chardonnay and reading the book of Exodus. Ambient temperature: 72 degrees. Relative humidity: 40%. Hummingbirds commuting between their favorite flowers.
The topic: whether or not it is morally acceptable, given how extraordinarily beautiful our lives are most of the time, to whine.
Compared to almost anyone in the Bible, those of us sitting around that table have it pretty darn good, starting with indoor plumbing. And the Israelites in the wilderness had it particularly hard: fleeing an enslaving despot, slavery behind them, wilderness ahead. Naturally they would complain about their lot to Moses. What right do we moderns have to kvetch?
Then again, even around the patio table, we have our troubles. Friends dying too young of cancer. The betrayals of our own bodies in aging and illness. Unemployment. And our own despot, who daily threatens the welfare and even survival of our neighbors, our friends, our earth.
The Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron said, “Don’t pretend that you’re not suffering.” Emotions repressed can do far more sneaky, chronic harm than if expressed and released. The Israelites weren’t always noble and mature in their suffering. They could be petty, missing their melons and meat even with manna home-delivered daily to their tents. Perhaps what they best teach us is that whining is part of the process of getting free.
We spend the last part of Bible study circling the table with a speed-round of complaints, until our tanks were empty. We leave far lighter than we came in, having laid down our burdens in community. Thank God for our role models in the Bible, showing us how it’s done.
God, give me permission to pray not just the noble prayers, but to tell you what’s really troubling my heart, no matter how petty it may seem. You know what to do with my whining.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.