It was a bad day. A usual, run of the mill bad day that was cluttered with catching all red lights, red line traffic, lost erring, dead batteries, burnt dinner and tight clothes. The kind of day that eroded my tolerance as the hours marched on. No single annoyance was enough to set me off on its own, but when they ganged up on me, they sent me to the couch to binge-watch Friends at the end of the day.
Feeling exhausted thinking about one of your own days? Expectations at work, an unkind person, or rambunctious kids on a rainy day can set any of us off. Speaking for myself, these situations steered me into complaint mode. There was a time that I was a real pro at this. Honestly, if I were an inanimate object I would have been a vent! My reactions could range from small harrumphs to livid language that insulted someone else’s IQ. Or, as I tried to get better, I’d instruct people how to do it the right way with my blind arrogance.
Oreo cookies always remind me of the latter. One day I was grocery shopping with my husband. It was during a time where I was being intentional about complaining less. At the checkout the bagger placed my Oreo cookies on the bottom of the bag and proceeded to stack heavy items on top of them. I took it upon myself to show her the correct way to bag groceries. With elbows pumping I pulled everything out of the bag and gave her a lesson in how to re-pack the bag. My husband, the cashier and the bagger all stood back with a look of horror on their face. While I thought I was being helpful, my husband was embarrassed, the cashier was stunned and the bagger was insulted. Scott ushered me out of the store as fast as possible, reprimanding my behavior. I countered his argument with the fact that I was nice about the whole thing, and that people who came behind us would thank me because I just saved their Oreos! He replied that there was nothing nice about what just happened! The Oreo story still lives on as an example of “what NOT to do”.
I tried all different types of behavior changes in an attempt to manage my complaining. Stuffing my feelings was another failed attempt. One day I picked up Christmas cards that included a photo of my kids. It was a close-up shot of Alec holding Taylor on his back and they were wearing Santa hats with a blurred backdrop of Christmas lights. I hadn’t realized that someone might not know that the picture was taken vertically. When I picked up the cards though, I saw that they were printed horizontally. It was too late to re-order them, and when I kindly pointed this out to the clerk I received an unconcerned shrug. Instead of complaining I walked away from the counter burning with anger. I was so upset that my hands were shaking and the sample card in my hand looked like it was being electrocuted!
I have many more examples of efforts that didn’t work, but eventually I landed upon the one thing that always works. But before I get to that, I want to clarify what type of complaining I’m referring to. I don’t mean complaining about things such as social injustice, or situations or people who need advocates. I mean complaining about the circumstances in my world that make my life inconvenient or exasperating.
This type of complaining is an exercise in self-absorption. When I complain my eyes turn inward because most of the things I complain about affect my convenience, my expectations and my comfort. Face it, there’s a gazillion things we can complain about which makes it even harder to manage. Complaining is a real gnarly mess because it includes aspects of grief, disappointment, helplessness and frustration. This is what makes dealing with it such a challenge!
I went to Scripture to take a closer look at complaining and you know, I found quite a bit of it recorded in the Bible! The medieval Latin word for complain is com & plangere, which is a combination of the words expressing + lament. Lament is an aspect of complaining and in case you didn’t know, there’s an entire book dedicated to it in the Bible! There were Prophets who complained, the Jews did a lot of complaining in the desert, the book of Job has its fair share, and the New Testament doesn’t leave it out either. In Matthew 17:17 we see Jesus expressing His lament over the failure of the Disciples to heal a young boy, “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.”
I’m no Bible Scholar, but it sounds to me like Jesus is complaining. Since we know that Jesus is without sin, I’m guessing that complaining isn’t a sin. But, it gets confusing and complicated when we see in Scripture how God doesn’t like it. Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. (Numbers 11:1-2) The story then takes a plot twist where God gives them what they want, but they pay an awful price. I told you it was complicated. I encourage you to follow the link and check it out for yourself!
One thing I’m not confused about is that our magnanimous God wants us to come to Him with our complaints, anger, frustration, confusion and doubts because He is our Father. Numbers 11:1-2 tells us the people in the desert were complaining among themselves about just getting manna to eat. They wanted meat. They wanted more than what God was providing. They were clearly disparaging His blessings without bringing their requests to Him. This is very different from going to the foot of the Cross and baring our souls in an intimate and personal way. As our Father, there is nothing that we can’t take to God, even our ugly feelings, because our feelings are never a sin, it’s what we do with our feelings that can lead us to sin.
So, even while I believe that complaining isn’t a sin, I do believe that I don’t best reflect Him to the world when I do complain. Through the years I discovered that complaining actually points a finger at my own selfishness, my helplessness and my insecurity. Complaining is a fruitless exercise that attempts to eradicate all of this. However, when I make it more about God, or someone else, I always manage to resist the downward spiral of griping. When I gain this perspective, it reverses the direction of that spiral and produces better behavior. The skills necessary to get this perspective and to NOT make things about me are empathy and humility. They are the virtues that allow us to step into new perspectives that actually change our hearts. There’s a couple ways this works for me:
In situations when my complaining fuse is lit and sparks start to fly, I strive to turn the eyes of my heart outward. Most of the time my small insignificant grumblings can’t compare to the problems that others are having in this world. Case in point; have you caught yourself feeling contrite about something you’ve complained about after seeing the devastation that the hurricane victims are dealing with? I know I have.
Perspective mutes complaining because it redirects our focus from inward to outward. This is the essence of the phrase “first world problems”. Recently a worship vocalist at church had her in-ear monitors accidentally run over by a car, after falling out of her bag. These in-ears are pretty expensive because they are molded to their ears. Her response was, “Well, at least it wasn’t my leg.” (that got run over). She re-framed the situation by ushering in gratitude to shift her perspective. Gratitude helps escort empathy and humility in so that we align ourselves with God. It is at the foot of the Cross that we have the freedom to have it out with God, or have our fill of Him. Either way we walk away better for it.
As a Life Coach, I offer my clients a values exercise. The exercise makes you prioritize your values, because values have a pecking order. The order of our values drives the direction of all our decisions. The reason I mention this is because sometimes we value things over our happiness. I remember a time when I was caring for my father during major health issues. It was a tough, trying time and as you can guess, I was complaining a lot. Now, I wasn’t complaining that I had to take care of my father, but I was complaining about all the things in my life that were affected by me having to take care of my father.
Before I knew that our values had a pecking order, a friend of mine said to me, “You must love your family more than you love your happiness.” That comment pulled the rug out from under my complaining feet. It opened my eyes to see that I was actually choosing the circumstances in my life because I valued my family so much. This perspective was a game changer. I no longer felt helpless, I felt encouraged and solidified by the fact that, yes, my family was more important and worth it.
This revelation helped me to manage my complaining better. You see, for some reason I was walking around thinking that happiness was the ultimate goal of a successful life. Well, according to my personal, ordered values, my family is higher on my list. My guess is that most of you would have values higher on your list than happiness and don’t even realize it. So, take a tip from me, and don’t be deceived to think that the end goal of life is happiness, because it rarely is. We all have something that we would sacrifice for it.
Perspective mutes complaining and frees us up to see God, others and our values in a better light. Truth be told, I still struggle with complaining. Seriously, it’s easier for me to emotionally vent instead of taking a moment to reason it out. But this, my friend, is the key to emotional intelligence and spiritual peace. The time it takes to align yourself with God through reason and prayer, will always be worth it. Empathy and humility will always strike complaining right in the heart and give you new eyes to see that even when circumstances aren’t going your way, or people don’t do what you say, you really aren’t helpless because you can pray and find things to be grateful for, or realize there is something more important to you and worth the frustration.
Not complaining is a sacrifice and a work of love that Jesus modeled when He went to the Cross for us. Now, that is the ultimate perspective to have!
Think about the things you complain about. Is there a common denominator that would reflect what is going on in your heart?
Do you take your complaints to God? Or do you complain to others?
What areas of your life do you use empathy and humility? How is your perspective different when you experience them? Who in your life does this well?
1) What changes can you make to bring your complaints to God? (Prayer, Journaling, etc.)
2) When you catch your complaining fuse being lit, find a way to signal yourself to turn your eyes outward. Do this exercise for a month to build a new habit.
3) If you are interested in discovering the pecking order of your values, contact me. In only a couple Coaching sessions you will be able to identify what drives your decisions as well as gain perspective about what’s most important to you.
As a certified Christian Life Coach I can help you move from where you are to where God wants you to be. If you are interested in learning about your values then let’s chat. I’d love to be your champion in what God is calling you to do!
#Karynisms #CoachKaryn #EQandJesus #values #gratitude #emotionalintelligence #EI #EQ