Sometimes, having a good attitude is hard.
At least, it was hard for my daughter Ellie on a day not long ago. Several things didn’t go her way, and as each one happened, she complained. I could understand how she felt (I’m often tempted to complain, too, when things don’t go as I would like), but I knew I needed to say something to her.
Of course, I thought later of better and more articulate ways I could have handled the situation. But what I said at the time was, “Ellie, you need to stop complaining. If you’re really having a bad day, you can come talk to me about it. But don’t just go around being negative.” (I got it sort of right.)
Fast forward to yesterday morning, when Ellie said to me, “Mom, the last few days haven’t been going right at all for me. Can we talk about them? You told me to come to you instead of just complaining.”
I was pleased that she was making the effort to properly handle the temptation to complain. Of course, I made time to talk to her and let her voice her concerns. We talked about what she could do about them, as well as things I could do that would be helpful to her. Instead of spreading a cloud of negativity over our home because of her feelings about the past few days, Ellie did the right thing and chose to bring her concerns to someone (me) who would listen to her and help her with them.
It’s the same thing you and I need to do when we’re tempted to complain. We need to bring our concerns to someone who loves us and will help us deal with them. And while it’s marvelous to have human friends, family or clergy who will listen to us when we have a need, it’s even better to have God.
The only problem is, you and I don’t take advantage of His willingness to listen as often as we should (which is every time). Instead of taking our concerns to God and asking Him to help us deal with them, we too often resort to complaining—venting our frustrations into the air, to whomever happens to be listening.
Now please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not suggesting that we should never tell anyone what’s bothering us, or pretend like everything’s fine when it isn’t. Far from it. In fact, one reason God gives us friends and family, as well as a community of Christian believers, is so we can help bear one another’s burdens. But there’s a difference between the kind of complaining the Bible forbids and talking out what’s bothering us, in the way God meant for us to do, with someone we trust.
It’s OK to talk about our concerns with someone when we need help dealing with what’s going on. When we’re stressed or overloaded (and every mom experiences this at times), we need someone to hear us and help us figure out how to handle it. That’s fine. What isn’t fine is when we complain, finding fault with the circumstances God has allowed into our lives, with no real goal in mind other than just spewing out our negativity and (we think) relieving some of our tension for now.
In the first case, even if we have another human being to walk through our troubles with us, we still need to take them before God and talk to Him about them. After all, He’s the One who can give us the best help. He allowed those circumstances into our lives and intends to walk through them with us and bring a particular kind of good out of them.
In the second case—when really, all we want to do is be negative—it’s far better to take our complaints to God than to vent them on other people. He alone can change our heart in regard to the circumstances He’s allowed and grant us His perspective. Not only that, but He can provide stress relief for us that’s far better than the small and temporary relief we get by spewing out negativity.
The next time you’re tempted to complain, think about it this way: Do you have some things going on in your life that you need help dealing with? Fine. Talk to God about them, and find a human being you love and trust to talk to. Or do you not really want help, but just want to complain about the unfairness of it all? Take that to God too. Ask Him to change your heart and perspective.
He can, and He will, in ways that mere complaining will never do.
Philippians 2:14—Do everything without complaining or arguing. (NIV)