Why Misery Loves Company

Studying for the bar is no picnic. It’s time consuming, and intense. I knew this would be the case, and decided rather than going back to Michigan to study, to stay in Charlottesville. I figured all of my friends from law school would be here, and I would prefer the company of those who too had to study for the bar rather than get distracted by others who have more desirable summer plans.

My colleagues and I have been at it for seven weeks now. The experience has been unrelenting. When we get together, all we do is talk about the bar, how terrible this is, how many other ways we would rather be spending our summer. “Why didn’t anyone tell us it would be this hard?” “Why does my friend/parent/roommate/significant other keep asking me [insert anything], don’t they know I’m studying for the bar?” As if the world should stop and revolve around us.

The complaining is cathartic. But slowly I became aware of something. I’m sick of it. I’ve tried (unsuccessfully, I’ll admit) to keep complaining to a minimum based on a personal resolution I made at the beginning of the summer about drinking cups (someone knows what I’m talking about, and that someone knows who they are). Though I’ve complained, I’ve had enough.

Then a couple of weeks ago, my friend Michel posted a quote on complaining that convicted me even more to stop complaining so much. Last week, my friend Kara and I got together for a study break and dinner and I found out she was tired of complaining she was too. We started complaining about how sick we are of hearing, well, complaining. At least we’re taking a step in the right direction, right?

As I thought about these things, reflected on my summer studying for the bar, and talked it over with Kara, I realized two things.

Yeah, studying for the bar is no picnic. But it’s not that bad. Before all the other recent law grads grab their BarBri books and highlighters to throw at me, I’d ask them, stop and think about it. No, we’re not getting paid. Yes, we’re working all day (and night). But really, I could think of a million worse ways to spend ten weeks of my life, in worse places than Charlottesville. Compared to law school, where they always hid the ball, I’m actually learning the law, the blackletter stuff. And I see how it all fits together. Okay, so maybe my nerdiness is coming out. No, I wouldn’t do this for the rest of my life, but it is only ten weeks.

Second, if it’s not that bad, why does it seem that bad? Could it have to do something with…complaining? Could it be that the reason why misery loves company is because it justifies misery? By vocalizing our discontentment, it ingrains it within our minds, within our hearts, and it seems to materialize and become a part of our reality. Hi Misery! Welcome to the party! So, what started out as a legitimately unpleasant situation quickly escalates to something seemingly unbearable–simply because people open their mouths to complain.

As I thought about all of this, Paul came to mind. In Acts 16, he had been wrongfully arrested and abused in Philippi (you can imagine all of the criminal procedure, constitutional law, and §1983 claims that go through my mind every time I read this chapter). But at midnight, literally the darkest time of the day, when the wounds were probably throbbing the most, with their minds theoretically left to nothing but thinking about how the day had gone, what do we find Paul and Silas doing? Singing. Hymns. Not a single word of complaint. It leads a jailer to God. They were not willing to self-justify their deplorable condition. They knew others in that prison were listening. Misery loves company, but Misery wasn’t invited to their cell that night.

The other thing that strikes me is that this happened in Philippi. As Paul later wraps up his book to the Philippians, those who would have been intimately familiar with the story of what had happened to him and Silas, would have realized that Paul wasn’t just spewing words. He was commending them to do exactly what he had done (in Philippi!):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9

I do not regret staying in Charlottesville for the summer. I am glad to have the company of others who are going through this experience. But I’m tired of Misery tagging along and awkwardly and annoyingly trying to take over all of my free time and thoughts. So, as I’m heading down the home stretch of bar review (two weeks from today I’ll be free!), I’m trying to be thankful, think about good things, and rejoice, so I can experience peace.

After all, people are watching. I wouldn’t want to be seen in public with Misery, now would I?

One Comment

  1. Having a heart hid fully in Christ–the cure to our complaining and sighing. (And seriously, even sighing can be a form of complaining, in my opinion…) I appreciate this post–we shouldn’t just NOT complain, but rather rejoice in Jesus.

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