I've been thinking about complaining. But you'll be glad to know that I'm not going to do it here... because I've already done it elsewhere.
CONVERSATION # 1...
was with my neighbour earlier in the year. He commented that he hadn't seen me in a while and off I went in a flurry of arm-waving comedy, describing how busy I'd been doing this, that and t'other. It was funny enough. Quite theatrical really. But I walked away from the conversation disgusted with myself, conscious of the fact that most of our conversations together seem to go like that. He must think I'm a real whinger.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation in which you shine like starts in the universe as you hold out the word of life...
I think there may be three layers of complaining. The first layer is the out and out whinging, whining and complaining. The second is less obvious - the complaining veiled in some other guise such as humour. The listener is spared of the whining, but behind the veil is the backstory of moaning and groaning. And then there's the third layer that doesn't see the verbal light of day, but stays inside the heart, festering away - and it ought to be dealt with so that it doesn't give rise to bitterness. Because bitterness has the bad habit of bursting out in all sorts of unpleasant, unfriendly and ungodly ways.
CONVERSATION # 2...
was with a dear godly and gracious friend. I cannot recall hearing her complain ever. She is one of those wonderful "when I grow up I want to be like her" souls. We met one morning a while ago and talked about how life has been and for her, the last six to twelve months have been difficult. What I heard from our conversation was my friend telling me how life had been. Yet as our time finished she said, somewhat disappointed in herself, that she had prayed she wouldn't have a complaining spirit during our time together, the implication being that she felt she had complained her way through our morning together.
It's good not to complain. Listening to a steady stream of complaining can be agonising. But somewhere, just somewhere, there has to be a space to say it as it is. If life is difficult then life is difficult. To say otherwise is to lie. There has to be a place where friends who know and love one another can share about the hard things of life and where it isn't heard as complaining but as sharing.
"Do everything without complaining or arguing" is not about being shiny all the time. There is a space to say it as it is. So I look to my friend of conversation # 2 who is my benchmark of non-complaining and this is how I see her sharing in a real way that doesn't cross the line to complaining.
tone of voice and
body language (no dramatic hand to forehead, arm waving, rolling of eyes or frowny face.)
Then a bit deeper:
choice of words (words that honour the parties involved and moreover, honour God),
quickness of mind (to stop short the tendency to whinge in its tracks when it seeps out) and
choice of audience (comfort in, dump out works well here, because the space to share the hard things of life is not universal.)
And at its deepest:
prayerful resolve to not complain and
an abiding joy in the Lord sitting at the foundation of whatever life throws at us. Having a real and mature trust in God and hope of eternal life with Him, front and centre, helps to temper speech and conduct in all circumstances.
Two other incidentals of complaining that cross my mind, because I have been thinking about this a lot lately...
1. Complaining is sometimes just a habit. And then the habit becomes the default position. But it doesn't have to be like that.
2. I think I need to be careful about the sorts of questions I ask when chatting with friends. It is quite easy to ask a question that invites a complaining response. It is possible to phrase a question in a way that invites a godly response rather than an opportunity to whine and if I ask poor questions I don't serve my brother or sister well.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.