Monday, February 22, 2010
The Toxicology of Complaining
By Bob Gass
Do everything without complaining Philippians 2:14 NIV
Two groups of psychology students were wired for recording purposes, and assigned a period to socialise freely. One group knew the experiment would measure the level of complaining in normal conversation; the other group did not. Afterwards, both groups were shocked by how frequently they complained. The group in the know complained almost as much as the group unaware of what the experiment was aiming to achieve. It's the oldest response in the book - literally! Confronted with our choices and actions, we spontaneously start complaining: 'It was their fault, not mine; If they hadn't… I wouldn't have.' Adam needed no lessons in the art of complaining. Caught red-handed, he told God, '…The woman whom You gave… me, she gave me… and I ate." … the woman [Eve]… said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate" ' (Genesis 3:12-13 NAS).
Neither accepted responsibility for their choices. And since God doesn't help people who won't be responsible, He threw the complainers out of Paradise. If they ever subsequently 'got it' regarding complaining, they didn't transmit it to their offspring, Israel: 'Now the people complained… in the hearing of the Lord… his anger was aroused. Then fire… consumed… the outskirts of the camp' (Numbers 11:1 NIV). Notice, all complaining is 'in the hearing of the Lord', and He clearly doesn't want to hear it! Paul writes, 'Do not complain as some of them did; they were killed by the angel that destroys. The things that happened to those people are examples… written down to teach us… ' (1 Corinthians 10:10-11 NCV). Clean up your verbal act! Decide to detect, reject and eject all complaining from your vocabulary.
Complaining is toxic. It contaminates both the complainer and everyone within earshot. Sometimes we think we're helping by complaining. We maintain, 'If somebody doesn't say something, nothing's ever going to change!' - as though positive change can come from negative words. We imagine we've contributed something worthwhile by our complaint. But complaining is what we do to avoid facing, dealing with and solving the problem. It's what we do instead of contributing to constructive change, and it makes us part of the problem instead of the solution. The more you complain the more problem-focused you become, and the more problem-focused you become the more you complain. Ultimately, your complaining affects you more than anyone else.
The Psalmist said, '… I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed… ' (Psalm 77:3 NKJV). If no one else pays attention to your words, you do. Before you say them you think them: '… out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks' (Matthew 12:34 NKJV). And when you say them, you hear them and believe them just as you would the words of a trusted authority. Every time you repeat them you reinforce their power over you until eventually you make yourself the victim of your own complaints! Your spirit (attitude) will be overwhelmed, not by the problems and difficulties people bring to you, but as the self-inflicted product of your own complaints. So, 'Do all things without complaining… that you may become blameless and harmless… without fault in… a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world' (Philippians 2:14-15 NKJV).
Isn't complaining really just about words? No, it's much more than that!
First, complaining hands your power over to the people and circumstances you complain about, making you feel like their victim. It diminishes your ability to think of solutions, conditions your mind negatively, and blunts your ability to receive creative ideas from God. Positive outcomes don't grow in negative soil! You can't complain and create simultaneously. 'Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring… can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?… ' (James 3:11-12 NIV). Complaints are verbal expressions of negative beliefs. They cancel positive intentions and confessions, rendering you powerless to reap the gains God offers. Complaining focuses on a past you can't change. It keeps you scavenging in yesterday's debris, searching for evidence about 'who did what' and 'when' and 'why', while your present slips fruitlessly away.
Second, complaining is toxic to your relationships: '… Do you not know… a little leaven leavens the whole lump?' (1 Corinthians 5:6 NKJV). Complaining invites others to complain. Injected poison toxifies every part of the body. Subtly, your relationship, your family, your workplace, your church and your environment become polluted. Complaining polarises relationships. People who don't like stress, anxiety and negativity begin to distance themselves from you. 'The tongue has the power of life and death… ' (Proverbs 18:21 NIV) - your life and death, and the life and death of others. So pray, 'Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord… ' (Psalm 141:3 NIV); help me to avoid complaining.
You say, 'But isn't it possible my complaint might be legitimate?' Yes. Injustice, abuse, betrayal, robbery, gossip, libel, prejudice, physical harm against you or your family, and so on, are legitimate causes. 'And if I don't do something about these, won't I be failing in my responsibility?' Right again! You are called to be salt and light in this world, resolving problems that arise by practising spiritual principles in your daily life. To do nothing at such times makes you irresponsible and disobedient to God. But complaining about it is not doing something, not by God's definition. You say, 'All right, since God is against complaining, how do I handle legitimate complaints?'
First, do nothing until you've talked with God. You'll make the right moves if you take time to get the right counsel. Prayer clarifies your options and adjusts your perspectives. It defuses your anger, restoring you to objectivity and rational thinking. Your second move is more likely to succeed if your first move is to seek God for wisdom: '… he should ask God… ' (James 1:5 NIV).
Second, before you say or do anything, carry out an attitude check. Stop and ask yourself, 'What's my real agenda here? Is it to show them that I'm right and they're wrong? Is it to come away looking good while I make them look bad? Is it to win a personal victory or to solve the problem in a way that glorifies God?' Before you speak, check what's in your heart: '… For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart' (Matthew 12:34 NAS). When your heart attitude pleases God, you're ready to handle any legitimate complaint.