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Authenticity and vulnerability are the buzzwords of our day. Likely reacting against the perceived hypocrisy of the past, many ‒ in the church and out ‒ pride themselves on being honest and letting everyone else in on their honesty.
There are certainly healthy aspects to this trend. It’s hard to love and be loved if everyone is a phony. But, if I’m honest, the rise of authenticity has some rather annoying by-products.
One of the most common is the incessant noise of complaining Christians. Since sin invaded the world, we’ve all had issues doing everything without complaining or grumbling (Phil. 2:14). But lately, it seems that we’ve begun to celebrate complaining as a virtue rather than a vice.
This struck me the other day when a friend asked me how I was doing. Once I moved beyond my pat answer of “fine,” I began reflecting on the question for a few seconds. How am I doing? The convicting reality was that my first answers were all complaints. “I’m busy” (because isn’t that what everyone is supposed to say?). “I’m frustrated that someone hasn’t done something they said they would” (because that’s really annoying). “I’m discouraged because a few recent projects have fallen flat” (because wasting time is frustrating). My mental complaint list went on and on. Once the conversation ended, I was quickly convicted that my default posture in life was a complaint.
Maybe you’re like me and find complaints are second-nature. If so, here’s a few thoughts or practices I’m starting to put in play in my life.
Start my days by prioritizing praise
My morning prayers seem to set the trajectory for my day. There’s a litany of needs for which I could pray ‒ both in my life and in the lives of others. If I set my heart to these burdens too quickly, I’m prone to be overwhelmed before I even start my day. I’m learning to pray prayers that celebrate God’s character, His grace through Christ, and His goodness in my life. And then I need to stop for a while. Later in my day, I can pick up my list of needs, and intercede on behalf of others, once I’ve prioritized praise.
Recognize that life is always frustrating
Complaints spring from a heart that thinks it deserves better. But in a fallen world people sin against you, families are broken, relationships are hard, work drains you, and suffering is commonplace. Water is wet and life is hard ‒ that’s just the way it is. The sooner I recognize this, the better. Then, when I’m tempted to gripe, I’m reminded that I’m just venting to others who have similar frustrations as I do.
Know the difference between genuine suffering and petty annoyance
Everyone experiences seasons of life where pain strikes in profound ways ‒ a cancer diagnosis, a marriage in crisis, or a prodigal child. These seasons require a different posture towards pain. I need more people to bear this overwhelming burden.
But most of the experiences of my life, the ones that I usually complain about, aren’t like that. In fact, they are almost unrecognizable in comparison. You know these: I’m stressed, I’ve got a head cold, and my kid’s crying a lot. If petty annoyances cause you to shout complaints, then what do you do when something really bad actually happens?
Watch who I spend time around
Complainers seem to move in packs. Find one complainer and you are likely to find ten others like them. It makes sense ‒ who wants to hang out with someone who’s always got a reason to vent?
If I’m not careful, though, I can be sucked into the community of complainers. I hear them and I remember all of the things that frustrate me about my life, and, since they’ve told me their junk, I might as well share mine. People like me need to surround ourselves with those who are seeking to train their hearts to celebrate the goodness of God in the midst of a broken world.
Talk to a few select people
If I’m complaining via a social media post or group text message, then odds are my complaints are designed to make others feel sorry for me rather than truly seek prayer and help. Consider the only valid motive for voicing our pain and frustrations ‒ to have another person hear my need, pray on my behalf, and find meaningful ways to lessen my burden. If someone can’t do this, then there is no point in me venting to them. Far better to select an inner circle of people ‒ like my small group or my spouse ‒ who know me, love me, pray for me, and would rally to help me.
We all complain far more than we should and far more than we probably think we do. If it’s authenticity that we seek ‒ the reality is that we who are in Christ have far better lives than we deserve.