How to Stop Complaining: Life Lesson from a Nursing Mother in Africa

How to Stop Complaining: Life Lesson from a Nursing Mother in Africa


Complaining.

I hate doing it.

When I give in to it, it’s like having an out-of-body experience. I’m up near the ceiling somewhere, looking down on my complaining self. I don’t like what I see, but I can’t seem to stop it.

The Bible makes it clear that God doesn’t like complaining. The Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years because of it!

Are you a complainer? Have you thought about what complaining sounds like to the people who have to listen to you when you complain? Complaining can damage your relationship with others and with God. That should be sufficient motivation to stop complaining. This article shares an experience in Africa that resulted in saying goodbye to the problem of complaining.Complaining can damage your relationship with God and with others.

We complain because we want something different—faster, slower, more fun, more comfortable, tastier, longer, shorter, easier . . . better!

We complain because of comparing. We’re comparing the way things are with the way we wish they were. What do you use as your measure for comparison?

If you want to stop complaining, you must change the measure that you use when you compare the way things are against the way you wish they were. If you compare yourself with the Duchess of Cambridge, you might feel sorry for yourself and have reason to complain. If you compare yourself with the mother in my story below, you may never complain again.

Rice Farmer in Africa

Rice Farmer in Africa

When I feel like complaining, I don’t do it if I think of this experience. When that happens—when memory and conscience and Holy Spirit all work together in harmony to make me think and remember—then it’s like turning a key in a lock, the key that stops me before I start complaining. God gave me that key in a dingy hot pup tent in a rice field under the burning African sun.

It was 1970.  I was 23 years old.

I went to Liberia to work with Christian missionaries for the summer. I lived with Margaret, a single missionary lady, but I spent most of my workday with a tribal woman named Mary Beulah. We didn’t use the term “personal assistant” in those days, but the best description for Mary would be that she was Margaret’s personal assistant. My task that summer was to meet with several girls’ groups, and Mary’s role was to help me find these meeting places and provide assistance if we had any difficulties along the way.

With Mary, I had the most adventurous trek of my life and a meeting that, as Dr. Phil would say, became “a changing day in my life.”

Mary and I went on a bush trip to her village, where she had her own little house. Mary was known as “a big woman in her town,” mainly because she was free and single, and she worked in Monrovia with the missionaries. To get to Mary’s village, Margaret drove us to the end of the road. After that, we were on foot the rest of the way.

Mary carried my gear on her head as we crossed monkey bridges, which amounted to a single log over the creek with occasional poles attached that were there for grabbing if you started to fall in.

When we reached Mary’s little house, it surprised me to see a full bed complete with a mattress. A couple of years before that, in preparation for her first visit from Margaret, Mary carried that mattress to her house on her head! Thanks to this earlier effort, I rested comfortably that night.

The next day, Mary took me to meet her sister. The African sun was pounding that day. Great tall jungle trees shaded the first part of the trip to sister’s place, but after that, the sun blazed as we walked through an area with no shade.

Then we came to a large rice field. In Liberia, rice farms are not wet fields as we think of them in Asian countries. In West Africa, rice farming is dry. (I just don’t want you to paint this scene in green because it’s brown here. Brown and more brown.)

Are you a complainer? Have you thought about what complaining sounds like to the people who have to listen to you when you complain? Complaining can damage your relationship with others and with God. That should be sufficient motivation to stop complaining. This article shares an experience in Africa that resulted in saying goodbye to the problem of complaining.In the brown dry rice field, we found Mary’s sister. She was on the far side of the field, and I was glad that it would take a minute to get to her because I needed a moment to adjust to what I saw. I expected another version of Mary, a well-fed, fat and jolly tribal woman in colorful clothes.

As I squinted through the sun’s glare, I saw a small, malnourished woman in ragged brown clothes, but that was not the shock. This woman was plowing the rice field, but there was neither horse nor ox pulling the plow. The woman was the power for the plow!

She had a primitive push-plow, and she was doing the pushing, but that’s still not all. She was carrying her baby on her back, her precious little brown baby. As we got closer, I saw that she had strapped the baby with his head under her arm and near the front of her body so that he could nurse! This mother was multi-tasking: pushing a plow and nursing her baby at the same time!

When Mary’s sister saw us, she stopped plowing, and Mary introduced us. Then sister offered us the only shelter from the hot sun. It was a small brown pup tent in the middle of the field. (Where was sister’s house? I never knew.) There was barely enough room in the little tent for the three of us to sit down. Actually, there were five of us. In addition to the nursing baby, Mary’s sister had a four-year-old son with her. He’ll move to a starring role in my story in a moment.

And so we chatted. What did we talk about? I don’t actually remember. Girl talk. What a place for girl talk! We talked for a little while, and then we prayed. I loved hearing Mary pray. Then Mary told me that she would stay there and help her sister and that I was to go back to her house in her village. What? Wait a minute! I would have protested, but I didn’t want to rob the sister of help. I had no idea how to get back to her house. No problem. The four-year-old would be my guide!

So back under the jungle trees with a preschooler in charge. On that walk back I had to wonder “what if this little guy can’t find the way and I’m out here in the jungle for the rest of my days?” Thankfully, he was gallantly self-assured, which instilled confidence and calmed my fears as we walked back to Mary’s house. He was a cute little fella and seemed older than his real age. He got me there safely and bid me a sweet and gentlemanly farewell. I went into the relative cool of Mary’s house, took off all my clothes, and drank a bottle of warm Coca-Cola. Those were the days of the commercials that said, “Things go better with Coke,” and I remember thinking what a commercial this would make! Warm Coke is refreshingly delicious on a hot African afternoon.

I have never forgotten the short time I spent with that dear mother in the field. I told the Lord that day that, while I knew that someday I would complain, I truly never wanted to complain about anything in my life again. Prior to that time, compared to Mary’s sister, I had never had anything that I should complain about, and I felt that I never would. When Mary returned (I had put my clothes back on by that time), she told me that her sister wanted me to know that meeting me would be a day she would never forget. She thanked Mary for giving her such a good day. I had never experienced anything as sad as what I saw that woman doing in that field that day, but for her, it was a good day!

The next day, the villagers gathered for church, and they invited me to preach.

Are you a complainer? Have you thought about what complaining sounds like to the people who have to listen to you when you complain? Complaining can damage your relationship with others and with God. That should be sufficient motivation to stop complaining. This article shares an experience in Africa that resulted in saying goodbye to the problem of complaining.

This little brown church is similar to the one in Mary’s village, not much to look at on the outside, but I wish you could hear the singing on the inside!

 

I had never preached before in my life. In my church back home, everyone would have fainted if a woman got up to preach. But . . . when in Rome . . . so I prepared a little sermon. This was the text:

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.    
–Matthew 11:28-29

Seven years later, nursing my own baby while resting on a pillowed sofa in air-conditioned comfort, I thought many times of that mother. Looking back, I don’t see how she could have kept that baby alive. After some experience with nursing, I realized that there was no way that she could have had very much milk to give. I wondered if her baby survived. (You might think that Mary should have helped her financially, but Mary didn’t have a lot of money or resources. Margaret took care of Mary.)

Throughout my life, during difficult times, when I have felt tired, when I have wanted to feel sorry for myself, I have thought about my Christian sister plowing and nursing in the field. Regardless of what I was going through, it never compared to that mother who had to do the work of the ox that plowed the field. In the life that God has given me, there has been no reason to complain.

 

Do you have “a heart for Africa”?
Did this article provide any help for reducing complaining in your own life?
Have you had a mission trip experience that you would like to share?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,”
I would love for you to leave a comment here and tell me about it.

Are you a complainer? Have you thought about what complaining sounds like to the people who have to listen to you when you complain? Complaining can damage your relationship with others and with God. That should be sufficient motivation to stop complaining. This article shares an experience in Africa that resulted in saying goodbye to the problem of complaining.

 

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Comments

  1. As a former missionary, who has worked all over the world mostly in non-glamourous areas, I appreciate this post so much! Thank you for sharing this with the Grace & Truth Link-up!

    • Thank you, Holly, for reading my post and taking the time to leave a comment. I would like to hear more from you about the “non-glamourous areas” where you have served. I wish that everyone could visit some of these interesting places. It certainly changed my perspective!

  2. Hi! I’m stopping by from Grace & Truth. My parents were missionaries in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, when I was little (until I was 4). I enjoyed reading your post and can visualize so much of what you’re saying as I have seen similar pictures from our time there, and can recall some images, even though I was young. Thanks for sharing with us!

  3. Jasmine green :

    I’ve never had the blessed opportunity to travel out of country on missions yet, but I did watch a story that touched and changed my perspective forever. This article and testimony has refreshed that perspective shift in me. Thanks for sharing !!!!

    • We all can benefit from a shift in perspective every now and then. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to share this comment. I really appreciate it!

  4. Very inspiring story. I am a natural born complainer . I don’t like the fact that I do it but,I do it anyway. I wish I were brave enough to go on a trip like this!

    • Cheri, I think we might all be “natural born complainers.” I hope that this story will be a source of strength and help for you. Thank you very much for stopping by and for taking the time to leave a comment. I really appreciate it!

  5. I will keep this story in my heart and every time I open my mouth to complain I will think of this. Thank you!

  6. I have been blessed to be able to work with ASON International in GHANA, W. Africa twice and hope to return again in 2016…I have seen the exact picture of the woman that you described…we held a women’s conference and spoke to many women that work so very hard every day and by our “American” standards have very little, but are filled with so much more joy than most of us…I too, came back with a bigger appreciation for a life more simple with less complaint and broader view of what true joy in Christ should look like! I praise God for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that teach us what contentment is!

  7. Gi Morgan Little :

    What I would call extraordinary perseverance was an ordinary characteristic of Miss Margaret and Miss Mary. I pictured that mother giving her baby nourishment when she herself had very little herself. A true mother. I pray that precious sister lived to see better days as well as her little children. Thank you for the eye and heart opening testimony. Gal

  8. I have been to both Mozambique and Malawi. I love Africa. I love the people, especially in the bush. They are generous with the very little they have and they sure do know how to praise the Lord. I pray to get back there soon. I miss my African brothers, sisters, and sons and daughters.
    Thank you for this beautiful story.

    • Yes, I totally agree that the people in the bush are generous, and I’m glad that you have had the blessing of hearing them praise the Lord. Thank you for reading my story and taking the time to leave another comment about Africa.

  9. What a beautiful reminder of God’s blessings in our lives. We are truly blessed. May I always remember this story with humility when I’m tempted to complain.

  10. I think I needed to read this today! Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to leave a comment.

      • I enjoyed hearing of your experience. Thank you gor sharing. I would like to do missionary work for the Lord. I’m not really sure what i need to do.

        • Thank you, Karen, for reading my article and taking the time to leave a comment. If you want to do missionary work, you don’t have to go overseas to do it. Check with your local church for opportunities in both foreign and home missions. There are lots of places to volunteer. Come back and check my blog at Christmas, I’ll be sharing information about ministry to international students who are in America to attend college.

  11. I have a couple friends in Africa and Pakistan that have orphanage’s. It’s crazy to see how much these children don’t have, I only see pictures currently because I do not have funds to travel. But someday I will, the children however seem elusively happy and I become exuberant because of that. This was a touching story, many blessings!

    – KRD

    • I’m glad that you were touched by the story, Kody. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a nice reply. I hope that one day you will be able to visit your friends in Africa and Pakistan.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story, I enjoyed reading it. I would so like to experience a mission trip. Iam sure I would gain far more than I would be able to give. This sounds rather selfish but gaining a new perspective on life has a way of humbling you too. God bless and I look forward to future stories!

    • “Gaining a new perspective on life has a way of humbling you.” Isn’t that the truth? Paul, thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to leave this insightful comment.

  13. I LOVE stories like this. We are given OUR life, no other. OUR life is precious and full. There is nothing else we need (or else the Father would give it).
    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Thank you for sharing this experience. I will definitely remember this story the next time I start to complain about something. It is truly a matter of perspective.

  15. I currently live in Mozambique, last June I birthed my last child here in my home. After horrific encounters with the hospitals here and my friends losing their babies at the hands of corruption I am bless to have a home safe enough to give birth in. I have such a respect for these women laboring in the fields in the hot sun with their babies on their backs. It truly is an eye opening experience. I wish everyone could encounter it.

    • Thank you for this comment, Tawnya. I really appreciate it. So glad you had a safe place for your own delivery. I visited your web site and am delighted to learn about the work you’re doing in Mozambique.

  16. What a great reminder. It’s amazing what we choose to complain about when others are content with so much less. I’ve had a few eye opening experiences in Haiti and I have to remind myself of those times sometimes. Thanks for sharing. I’ll leave my first mission trip story if you want to read it 🙂

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