Two weeks ago, our family traveled from Texas to Nevada so my spouse could go rock-crawling in our jeep. Having just written and brainstormed about curbing complaining, I was determined to implement it on the trip. I learned plenty of good lessons that I hope will help you as you work on kicking this habit. As I mentioned in the first post, the goal in this effort is to shine our light more brightly to the world around us. Just as excessive sugar depletes the body of nutrients, excessive complaining depletes our joy.
Lesson #1: It’s Hard
“Hello, I’m Captain Obvious…”
Preventing complaints demands significant concentration. I frequently paused before speaking to make sure what I was going to say was not a complaint or even a complaint incognito. There were plenty of times when I just stopped myself from talking altogether (a bit of a challenge for this chatterbox). I refrained from commenting on a post that read “Who else hates DST (Daylight Savings Time)?” because that too would have been complaining.
In order to be successful, I had to think through every word, every text, and every action.
Lesson #2: It’s Harder When You’re Tired
It’s no secret that humans are less efficient when exhausted. The night before we left, I had 5 hours of broken sleep. The first night we camped in Nevada, our campground buzzed with raucous laughter and loud music, making sleep impossible. The third night, I slept for eight solid hours. The fourth night, I slept for five hours before getting up at 3 a.m. to hit the road. As we traveled home, my anti-complaining campaign took herculean effort. I slipped up more than I care to admit.
We typically think of drugs or alcohol as the only factors affecting our sobriety, but the quality of our sleep can affect our sobriety as well. Take it seriously. We are commanded to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5.8) Fatigue weakens the mind.
We cannot always be on the top of our game, but if we can get more sleep, we should get more sleep. (This article at Forbes.com details more reasons to get more sleep!)
Lesson #3: Pray Your Way Through It
“Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all… Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
~ 1 Thessalonians 5.13-18, ESV, emphasis mine
This scripture is a good anti-complaining manifesto, among it’s other implications. Memorize it.
In the first segment, we are encouraged to be patient with our brethren. The more we complain about someone or something they do, the more resentment builds in our heart. We may think complaining is a good release, but it simply constructs negative neurological pathways. If someone or something persistently troubles you, take it to the Lord every time. It is not within our power to change people or circumstances, but it is within our power to choose our response.
Immediately following the encouragement to “pray without ceasing,” we read, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Our prayers should overflow with thanksgiving, as should our lives. Unfortunately, our lives mainly overflow with major and minor grumbles.
Complaining mixes with thanksgiving as effectively as oil mixes with water. The oil of complaint always rises above the water, making it useless. Whether you have a short or long-term complaint, take it to the Lord first and commit this to your memory: “If it isn’t worth the effort to pray, it isn’t worth the breath to say.” If I don’t think it is worth telling God about, then why am I talking about it at all?
Lesson #5: Sneaky Complaints vs. Addressing the Issue
Sometimes we couch our complaints in “speaking the truth.” If it’s thirty degrees and the pipes are frozen, it’s cold, and there’s no two ways about it. You could look at your neighbor and say, “It’s cold,” but that’s elementary, my dear Watson. Do you need to complain about the cold, or should you just deal with it? If the pipes are frozen, get down to brass tacks and focus on surviving until they thaw. Complaining will only dampen the situation, so why do it?
If there is sin or conflict to be dealt with, pray about it, consider how to address it, and tackle it head-on. Follow Jesus’ advice and go to the person directly (Matthew 18.15-18). Don’t air dirty laundry across the cables of the internet or whisper it to a friend.
Don’t forget—sighing loudly, or growling in frustration is still a vocalized complaint. When I first started working on this, I would catch myself sighing in exasperation as I stifled my words. Sighing, moaning, growling—those are still complaints even if they contain no words. Take deep breaths and redirect your thoughts.
Lesson #6: It’s Worth the Effort
The best part about my efforts—imperfect though they were—was the definite shift in both attitude and mood. I felt buoyant, cheerful, and optimistic. In not complaining about Daylight Savings, I found myself truly thankful when I realized the extra hour of sleep it afforded me.
A cheerful heart blossoms when we cultivate gratitude and quench complaints.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
~ Ephesians 4.29, ESV