Ranting and having a moan is an intrinsic part of human nature. Like most people, I’ve been both perpetrator and receiver of criticism. Like most people, I’ve been criticised for getting something wrong or doing what I considered to be the right thing (I am an ex-public servant, after all, and someone once complained to a bishop about me… I knew I had the bish’s backing, though). And like most people, I’ve both made mistakes and admitted to them.
This natural disposition towards finding fault can at times be useful, of course. It can help identify problems or recognise the potential for harm or further mistakes. It can clarify misunderstandings and resolve complications.
All the same, there are times when things don’t turn out as we would like them to – or, indeed, assume or expect them to. We may look at something and not recognise that all is not well or not right.
I like reading detective novels and watching (some) TV dramas of that genre… Vera, Poirot, Miss Marple, Morse, PD James, Anne Cleeves, Agatha Christie… There often comes the point when the lead detective has an epiphany moment 25 minutes or 25 pages from the end: ‘We’ve been looking at this the wrong way!’ they exclaim.
Or to use another example, take a look at the image on this page – are you seeing what you expect to see or do you need to look at it another way?*
So often in our ranting, complaining and misunderstanding, we can find ourselves looking at situations in very unhelpful ways. At its worst, such expressions of anger and distress eat away at our very soul. We find ourselves fighting battles which, perhaps, are not ours to fight – or not ours to achieve a solution within them.
Jesus was a one for looking at things in a different way: take the Beatitudes, for example or his saying of ‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first’. Jesus turned many of the generally accepted attitudes upside down and that to me is an encouragement for us to do or act the same, or to at least think differently.
As well as reflecting on Jesus’ teaching, the Serenity Prayer, often attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, is a good yardstick against which to measure our own attitudes and battles:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Or, look at this way: try and let go of that which is not yours to hold on to.
*The story of the Good Samaritan is portrayed in these windows (viewed from inside the church) – but look carefully and, following the convention that we read from left to right, it’s in the reverse (wrong..) order.