I’ve been asked before (by a child) if I smile while I’m sleeping, which is a reasonable inquiry given my generally happy disposition. What that child could not recognize from my smiley disposition, though, is that a happy face can easily cover a grumpy soul.
Paul Miller, in his book A Loving Life, says that grumpiness is universal. A cranky soul manifests itself in at least two different ways. One is the “passionate, cathartic blasting” or “self-righteous dumping” that is elevated as being “real” and “authentic” with one another, but really is a relationship-destroying “mask for enshrining my feelings, for doing my own thing.” [pg 108-109] The other is a “leaking, low-level irritability”–stewing instead of venting. Miller describes it this way:
A leaking, low-level irritability is a great temptation on a journey of love. You feel you have the right to be moody–you’ve earned it. It is a way of exacting emotional payment from a disappointing life. Grumpiness provides momentary relief, but it always involves a splitting of the self. I commit outwardly, with my hands, but not with my heart. I go through the motions of love, but anger smolders just below the surface like a simmering rant…. My will has slipped off the tracks of quiet surrender to the Master, and I’m just going through the motions. Life ceases to be fun. If left unchecked, my inner moodiness begins to distort my heart, and I can slip into cynicism, which begins a downward trajectory into bitterness. It’s not a good path.
Self-pity, compassion turned inward, drives this downward spiral. Instead of reflecting on the wounds of Christ, I nurse my own wounds. Self-as-victim is the great narrative of our age, capturing whole cultures…. Enshrining the victim is so seductive because you have been hurt. But self-pity is just another form of self-righteousness, and like all self-righteousness it isolates and elevates. It elevates you because it says you are better than the other person; you are the victim. It isolates you because you live in and are nourished by your interior world, which can’t be criticized. [pg 109]
Can you relate? I certainly can. Self-pity seduces my heart and promises comfort for my difficult life. But it cannot deliver on that promise. So how do I escape the allurement of grumpiness? How do you escape?
The cure for a cranky soul begins by repenting, by realizing that my moodiness is a demand that my life have a certain shape. Surrendering to the life that my Father has given me always puts me under the shelter of his wings. That leaves me whole again, and surprisingly cheerful. [pg 110]
Confession and repentance can be followed up with a discipline of giving thanks. Choosing to rehearse reasons for gratitude whether I feel grateful or not may be dismissed as “fake” by the proponents of “authentic venting” (a.k.a. grumpiness), but in doing so I am reminding my soul of what is true. And what is most true is that the God who loved me–without grumpiness–while I was His enemy (Romans 5:6-8) is the same God who provides lasting comfort in my darkest valleys…lasting comfort which self-pity can never deliver.