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Faith and Values: Leave cynicism, complaining at the door to ‘leave no trace’ on your fellow humans

By Steve Massey Correspondent

Leave no trace.

I first heard that slogan years ago when the kids still lived at home and our family thrilled to camp, fish, hike … or do just about anything else outdoors.

The slogan stifled any temptation to use my new Jeep’s capable off-road prowess to mar those undisturbed spaces we loved so much.

Leave no trace.

Oddly, that long-forgotten motto popped back into my mind this week during a conversation with a dear friend. He managed to pull off something few of us ever achieve.

He talked with me for an entire hour without leaving so much as a trace of grumbling or complaining; not about politics, weather, his difficult circumstances or other people. He left no trace.

I want to be like him when I grow up. I want to leave no trace of discontent when I travel into the lives of others.

As a Christian, I’m helped to be reminded in Scripture that God intends to grow me up this way, too.

“Do everything without complaining …, ” says Philippians 2:14.

Notice the word “everything.” Certainly “everything” includes my conversations. God intends to mature me to the point that I leave no trace of the cranky whining so common among … well, all of us.

Grumbling and complaining, it seems, are the preferred human pastime.

On one of our many hiking trips, my son and I rested and took in the view from atop one of those rugged peaks overlooking Lake Pend Oreille. As we soaked in the glory of it all, I glanced down at my feet and saw it: a cigarette butt.

Instantly, a time of refreshing was tarnished a bit. Garbage in the wild always does this: It’s not supposed to be there, so it spoils the catharsis that creation gives so generously.

Grumbling and complaining bring garbage into relationships. It’s not supposed to be there, so it spoils the joy of mutual encouragement, of giving and receiving what is helpful, gracious and constructive.

It occurs to me that I am sometimes guilty of the relational equivalent of leaving garbage in people’s lives.

Is it possible you’re guilty of this, too?

Most of us, I trust, would never go four-wheeling through a protected mountain meadow, nor leave so much as a cigarette butt “out there” in the wild. Yet we thoughtlessly leave traces of discontent and pessimism in even our most casual conversations.

Whether we leave deep ruts or comparatively small deposits is not the point: Both spoil what is meant to be refreshing.

You know, when I saw that cigarette butt atop Bernard Peak, I wished its owner had simply thought ahead and made some small provision for trash. How hard can that be, right?

If I am to leave no trace of joy-draining pessimism in my relationships, I’m going to have to think ahead. My words, after all, don’t just happen – they come from whatever I’ve been mulling over before I open my over-active mouth.

As always, God’s word is a step ahead of us on this one: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable,” says Philippians 4:8. “Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

In other words, think ahead. On the right things. It takes no effort or thought to grumble and complain. By nature, it’s our favorite sport, our default setting.

Thoughtful Christians set their minds on what is right, true, lovely and worthy of thanks to God. Grateful words flow from that mindset.

And grateful people leave no trace.

Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church ( He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or

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