As a minister and a father, I’m accustomed to hearing people complain, especially my kids. Such phrases as, “I don’t want to go to bed,” or “This sandwich is yucky,” or “My sister is bothering me,” are repeated on a seemingly infinite loop some days. Complaining happens in congregations as well with gems like “Her sermons are too long,” or “No young people come to church anymore,” or “I’m the only one who ever does anything for the Missions Committee.” Complaining is everywhere. I figure it must be productive to complain. What do grumblers know that makes complaining such an enticing act? Here are five reasons we should complain.
It is easier than actually changing.
We all know how awful change is. Instead of thoughtfully taking action to fix a problem or working with others to come up with a solution, complaining only takes enough energy to negatively talk about a situation. It would take too much energy to actually fix the problem.
We will get better at it.
Practice makes perfect! The more we complain, the better we will get at it, and the easier it will become. Try not to give up too soon. If we complain about the little things like a song on the radio or the smell of our shampoo, then eventually we will become more skilled complainers who can nitpick our spouses, aggravate our coworkers, and depress our pastors. But remember to start small and to do it often so that some day we can be so skilled at complaining that everyone knows it’s our unique calling in life.
It provides opportunities to challenge the mundane days.
Don’t we get bored when things in our lives go exactly as planned? The best thing to give our lives meaning is by adding a little more challenge to it. Do we really need days that aren’t ruined by complaining? Where’s the challenge in that?
It provides many friends.
Who doesn’t want more friends? If we do, then complaining will help us gain friends. And these friends will be complainers just like us! We will become attractive to a whole new community of folks who bring their negativity straight to us, their new friends. Complaining about a sports team, about a minister, an organization, or family members will bind our new complaining community together and won’t let any of those pesky non-complainers in. As long as we can ingest constant negativity, our new community will be right by our side – until our new friends begin to complain about us.
It makes us feel superior.
It feels great when we feel more important than others. By complaining, it keeps us from the stresses of being who we actually are. Complaining happens when we compare ourselves to others and want to bring them into our own insecurities and misery. It takes a lot of work to have a high self-image. Instead of celebrating our own skills and accomplishments it is much easier to demean and derail others’ achievements so that they are on equal footing with us. It is easier to compare our own selves to others rather than live authentically. It is exhausting to be confident and secure and cultivate our true selves. Being unique is overrated and a lot of hard work. Complaining puts others down so we can feel superior.
What if complaining isn’t for us? Although some find complaining beneficial, it isn’t for everyone. Here are five things to do instead.
Find the treasure in the trial.
We can look for the treasure in every trial. Granted, it is cathartic to complain when things aren’t going our way. Complaining is an emotional release and it lets others know we are encountering hardships. But what can we learn from our trials? What treasure can we dig up in the midst of our hardships that might build something holy in our lives? What if we look for the positive next steps in a situation and focus on those? Maybe we can’t see any good in a situation, but might we sit with the event and process it in a positive way through journaling, creating art, or meditating?
Be creative and productive.
Complaining sucks emotional energy away from our struggles leaving us unable to creatively and productively solve the issue. Re-hashing a situation over and over again keeps us weighed down in the negativity. Can we step away from our situations and view them with new perspectives? Might this distance give us renewed views and insights and allow us to problem solve?
Dr. Nancy Burns, Associate Professor of Sociology at Drake University says, “Giving thanks does not take away all our pain and struggles, but it points us to the light in a time of darkness.” Creating a list of the things for which we’re grateful can help us move out of negative slumps. Re-framing our experiences in positive ways can bring light and life to frustrating situations. What are we thankful for? Make a list.
Take comfort in the Bible.
Scripture reveals we are not alone. Tales of complainers litter the Bible, especially grumblers among God’s people. Psalm 106 recounts the journey of God’s people through the Exodus to the Exile. The people became frustrated and the complaining made God angry, made their leader (Moses) bitter, and prevented them from entering the Promised Land. The Bible doesn’t guarantee us an easy life. We don’t always get what we want. But we can trust in the One who is leading us through the desert and providing for our needs.
Confess our irritations to God.
God is the ultimate listener. Instead of venting our frustrations and complaints to coworkers, friends, and fellow church-goers, we can and should confess them to God. Prayer is powerful; prayer changes us. Allowing the Spirit to hear our fears and grumbles can help us release negativity as we cast our cares upon God. But prayer isn’t one-sided. Our quiet listening to the Spirit’s voice may be just the thing we need to let go of our own agenda and see God’s work in the world in and through us.
Complaining isn’t for everyone, thank God. But many of us could do better at managing our grumbling natures. These ideas are meant to help us do so. If not, then you are free to submit your complaints to the author.