Complaining: A Mad Dash to Nowhere

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I complain sometimes- and I don’t like it. Yes, there are times when we all do things we don’t like. For me, complaining is way up there on my list.

Don’t misunderstand. We need to address problems. I would even suggest that addressing problems directly is what good family members, coworkers, and teammates do. Addressing real problems is one thing. Complaining is another. Let me try to be more clear…

I define complaining as the act of finding negative things to focus on when those negative things are relatively insignificant. Statements like “making a mountain out of a mole hill” and “strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24) come to mind.

Complaining is not good for us. In fact, research suggests that complaining does little more than make a bad mood worse. Further, it increases stress which wreaks havoc on the body. Can we stop completely? I doubt it but there are good reasons for trying to reduce our level of complaining.

The Source of Complaining

As much as I don’t want to admit it, my complaining comes from self-absorption and grandiosity. I get too concerned about things being convenient for me and I complain. I also fail to notice or at least acknowledge my own shortcomings. Then I complain.

In Romans 12:3, Apostle Paul said that we should guard against thinking to highly of ourselves. Yet, this is exactly what I am doing when I’m complaining.

 Based on this idea, I suggest using this four-step process to reduce your complaining.

Steps to Reduce Complaining

Ask yourself, “Why does this matter?”

Be honest with yourself. If it is simply because you believe it should be a certain way, then you might be thinking too highly of yourself. Sometimes things matter because we want a reason to be irritable. Other times, it might be so that we have a reason to look at someone else negatively. Further still, we may be trying to get the attention of our own shortcomings.

When we think too highly of ourselves, we can get the idea that things need to be a certain way just because that’s the way we see it. The problem is, God didn't appoint me to be the general manager of the universe. He also didn't give me the wisdom to know everything. Be honest about ‘why’ this issue even matters.

Your answer to this question might be legitimate, but make sure you are being honest with yourself.

Ask yourself, “Am I taking the victim stance?”

This one is tricky. “Victim stance” is when I believe others are orchestrating things to cause me problems. There may be a few malicious people in your life. More likely, there are flawed people in your life and you assume their mistakes and failures are about you.

Here’s some good news - you’re not that important. People don’t have time to mess with you that much. If I think too highly of myself, I might get the idea that I am actually important enough for people to conspire against. If you think about it, that’s just weird.

Give Grace Because You Need it

People make mistakes. So do I. It seems we have a hard time admitting our own failures these days. I blow it sometimes. The best thing I can do is say, “I blew it. I’m sorry.” I might even add, “That’s something I’m not good at, but I will work on it.”

The worst thing I can do is give reasons. Reasons are usually just dressed up excuses. When you fail, admit it and move on. Don’t give reasons that end up coming off as nothing more than excuses and blaming. Whether you are blaming others or circumstances, excuses do little more than cause you to appear untrustworthy.

You need grace. I need grace. So do our family members, coworkers, and everyone else with whom we have contact. We need people to tolerate our failures, inconsistencies, and incompetence at times. People give you grace. Return the favor. When we think too highly of myself, we put ourselves in a position of perfection. We don’t admit that, but it is still true. Give grace because you aren't always awesome either.

Address REAL Problems Directly

This one is huge. First, make sure it is a REAL problem. How do you know? That is actually pretty simple. Will the outcome be different if the problem is not solved. If so, address it.

Complaining usually doesn't address the problem. One reason is we don't identify who owns the problem. An Important question to ask is if you can solve the problem. If so, go ahead and do it. If you own the problem, then make a change, ask someone for help, or whatever. But do something!

When others are truly responsible for fixing the problem, address it. Address it quickly and directly. Not addressing problems quickly sends the message that it must not have been important. Not addressing them directly says you are more worried about how others perceive you than solving the problem. Again, the problem must not be all that significant.

Be clear in what you need. Beating around the bush and hinting at things is not clear. Brene Brown wrote, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” I agree with her. When I am unclear, it is really a matter of self-protection as I try to predict how the person is going to react. That means I am thinking more about myself than the actual problem. Get the picture?

Be clear and direct. It’s faster and less frustrating for everyone. Handling problems this way will drastically reduce complaining.

One More Thing…

Paul’s exhortation to not think too highly of ourselves was given in the context of giving ourselves as a living sacrifice to God and having our minds renewed (Romans 12:1 - 2). I pray that I can become more and more transformed through the renewing of my mind. In doing so, I expect that I will think less of myself and will end up complaining a lot less. I sure hope so because complaining really does lead to nowhere.