Complaining is ugly. It is ugly in others and it is ugly in me. I cannot think of a single time when complaining was becoming. While it never looks pretty, it is all too easy. That’s why I love this little story that shows me why complaining is foolish. It puts grumbling into perspective.
John Newton was the British slave trader turned pastor and hymn-writer who wrote “Amazing Grace.” He told the story. It’s about a man who journeyed to a big city to inherit his million dollars.
Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him wringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!”—John Newton, cited in John Piper, “John Newton: The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness,” in The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce, 68
Now let’s unpack the tale to see the folly of complaining.
Picture the man, on his way to claim his million. Riding along in his carriagemobile. Oooh, there it is. Now he’s got the city in his sights. He grins. Almost there, he thinks. So close.
But at the mile marker one—Oh, my!—he hits a sinkhole of a pothole. The carriage shakes. Underneath him groans, wobbles, quakes. The wheel falls off. On the outskirts of the town where his fortune awaits, his carriage breaks.
He jumps down to inspect his broken wheel and that’s where things go wrong. Because this man doesn’t reason right. He doesn’t think, It’s only a mile to town. I’ll walk in and stake my claim.
Instead he stumbles to town, complaining to himself and to all who pass by as he goes:
My wheel fell off. My carriage is broken.
That’s it: Newton’s little story with the big lesson. In order for the moral to impress us—why complaining is foolish—we must understand its parts. So let’s take a quick look.
That’s our current circumstances. It’s bodies that ache with illness we can’t shake and hearts that break. The broken carriage is this light, momentary affliction. It is the breaking and wasting away, that are preparing glory. The carriage is where the rubber meets the road, and where the wheels fall off.
That’s what Paul called our inheritance in Christ with the saints in light. It is to be present with the Lord and know untainted, unending joy. The King of Glory has qualified us as heirs and guaranteed an inheritance for his children that is kept for us and will never perish, spoil or fade.
That’s heaven, where our inheritance awaits. Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Heaven awaits. It’s all coming: glorification and forever with the Lord with no tears and all treasures where moth and rust can’t destroy. It will be ours in one celestial city, whose architect is God.
The Last Mile?
That’s this life. James called it a mist. It’s the small piece of red tape on the end of Francis Chan’s rope: a breath, a vapor, a mist. It appears for a little time and then vanishes. You and I are only a mile from home, just a breath away. Whether we arrive tonight or 70 years hence, the distance is mist-short.
I’m sure you’re on to him. He’s me when I complain. And you. Whenever we grumble and complain and refuse to rejoice and give thanks, we are the foolish one. He is us when we we wring our hands and focus on our broken wheels instead of the treasure that’s just a breath ahead.
Why Complaining is Foolish
You’ve got this one too. If we are in Christ, we’ve got it all coming. So why, for God’s glorious name’s sake, would we ever go grumbling, wringing our hands and blubbering on for this last little mile?
The last mile is short. The city is close. And the heirs dwell there forever. That is why complaining is foolish. Let’s leave the wheel behind and look ahead, where a joyful end is guaranteed.
Before I close, I must add that this doesn’t mean we can’t complain to God. That is the biblical category called lament. Lament, author Marissa Bondurant explains, “is holding God to his own word…saying ‘God, you said this about yourself in Scripture, why aren’t I experiencing that truth in my suffering?’”
Jesus, God’s Son, cried out in lament as he suffered on the cross. And, for the joy set before him, he endured. That “both-and”— both lament and look forward—is a standard for us too.
Our wheels may come off and carriage break, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Both and. Sorrowful and rejoicing, together.
I love how Bible commentator Alec Motyer put it, “Everything that made the journey a sad experience will take to its legs; every unalloyed delight that slipped like soap out of the pilgrim’s grasp will be finally possessed. Zion admits no disappointment.”
The city a mile off is Zion. And the ransomed of the LORD shall come to it with singing, not with complaining.
So stop focusing on the broken carriage. Look up, lament. But keep on.
Everlasting joy is just ahead.