Getting a watch battery replaced was the one errand I had for the day. On a cold, snowy morning, I reasoned that a short visit to the mall would be a good use of time. I could get my watch battery fixed and take my energetic toddler to the play area for a bit. We live about five minutes from one of the nicest malls in our area. Despite our closeness in proximity, I try to avoid it as much as possible.

Whenever I step foot in the mall I realize how many things I “need.” The enticing window displays of shiny leather shoes, the latest fashions, and giant red SALE signs draw me in like a moth to a flame. All of a sudden, I realize how dingy my boots look, how out of style my coat is, and why I had better jump on this clearance sale before it’s gone. What I had been content with 10 minutes ago now urgently needs to be replaced.

Discontent has set in, and it leads down a windy path to a host of other sins.

Idealizing the Past

Though the Israelites weren’t shopping in the mall and feeling discontent, their long trek through the wilderness and their desire for tastier food led them to a barrage of complaints. From our perspective it seems preposterous that people who had once been slaves were looking back on Egypt as a place of abundance and goodness. But that’s exactly what discontentment can do: It can cause us to idealize our past and complain about the present.

Although God had miraculously delivered them from slavery from Egypt, their current menu option led them to tears as they longed for the food they had eaten in Egypt. “And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic’” (Num. 11:4-5). It seems they didn’t remember the food was only free in Egypt because they were slaves. The “grass is greener” syndrome blinded them from seeing the goodness of God in leading them out of slavery and providing for their needs in the wilderness.

Contagious Complaining

Numbers 11 tells us the people of God complained. One whiny voice sharing its woes with another lights a fire that spreads quickly. All of a sudden everyone is focused on what’s wrong with the situation instead of what’s right.

I think back to my days teaching elementary school. When I told the class it was time to clean up the craft and get out their math books, all it took was one student to let out a moan and in two seconds, half the class was joining in. Complaining is contagious. The Israelites’ whining infected Moses and then led him down a path of complaining and self-pity (Num. 11:11-14). He was overwhelmed and burdened by their requests for meat. It discouraged Moses to the point of him telling God he’d rather be killed than deal with the whining Israelites. “If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness” (Num. 11:15). The discontent that led to complaining now resulted in despair.

Heart of the Matter

Discontentment, complaining, and idealizing the past all point to a deeper root from which these ugly sins sprout. When I complain about my wardrobe, or difficult relationships, or think moving elsewhere will solve my problems, I’m really demonstrating a lack of trust in what God has deemed good and right. Complaining is telling God we really know better than him, that our ways are better than his.

But God’s Word gives us a different perspective. In Psalm 90:14, we find a prayer that helps us combat our natural bent to discontent: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” So whether we are tempted to think that a different job would make us happier, or a bigger house would solve our space issues, or losing weight would increase our confidence, we can trust that as long as we are seeking the Lord, he promises to give us all we need. We will only find lasting satisfaction in God.