We’re natural complainers. It’s in our human nature. I see it in myself and my kids–even my two-year-old. We want to make sure we get to have what everyone around us is enjoying, and if what we have doesn’t measure up, we complain. 

But think about it. Would you rather spend time with someone that complains all the time or someone that has positive things to say about others? I think we naturally gravitate towards the latter, but naturally behave like the former.

What does the Bible say about complaints?

In Philippians 2:14–16a, Paul tells the church:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. 

I thought Life Pointe Church’s Shine sermon had some interesting points about this (it starts at 10:25). 

Pastor Jim started by sharing some context: Paul is referring to a conflict between two women (which he references later in Philippians 4:2–3). That conflict may be long gone, but as in so many biblical letters, this was just the catalyst for Paul including the instruction. The guidance he provided continues to be relevant to us today.

A Little Less Grumbling

In terms of the language Paul used, the word for “grumbling” was an onomatopoeia for “murmur.” It paints a picture of the whispering and murmuring going on within this church. The word “arguing” (or “disputing” in the translation in the sermon) is sometimes translated as “thoughts.” It can mean arguments out loud or in our minds. 

So that muttering under your breath as you clean up the sticky mess you just discovered or those scathing arguments in your head as you react to the latest miscommunication with your husband? That’s what Paul is addressing.

Take it to God

Often our complaints stem from feeling a lack of sympathy, affection, or fellowship. When we don’t have them, we feel misunderstood, overlooked, and alone. So we look for them in the wrong places and try to make our voices heard. It’s not a bad thing to try to be heard, but complaining isn’t the way to do it. What would happen if we took the way we feel to God instead? We’re supposed to pray continually–that includes talking to him when you feel misunderstood, overlooked, and alone.

Why are complaints such a problem?

First of all, it shifts your focus from seeing how God has blessed you to fixating on what you don’t have. The more you complain, the more it snowballs, and the harder it is to see the positive things God is doing in your life.

Second, we’re supposed to be the light of the world. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus said:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When we grumble, we’re basically putting our light under the basket and covering up God’s light with complaints. The world is watching. Show them God’s light by choosing not to grumble and complain (I know, easier said than done!).

Young boy crying to show complaints

When the emotions take over

I know when my emotions take over, I can’t always get myself out of the inward focus. My brain starts focusing on me, me, me: I can’t do anything right, no one likes me, life is too hard, I just want to do what I want to do, if I had a pint of ice cream or a box of cookies then I’d feel better. But those are lies. My feelings aren’t reliable. And eating my feelings won’t help.

Lately I’ve started trying to ground myself in the truth when my head starts to go down that road. I think it helps to turn the focus on God, rather than on feeling sorry for myself and internally complaining about what’s hard. I take a step back and remind myself:

  • God designed and created me.
  • He doesn’t make mistakes.
  • He loves me more than I can understand.
  • He knows how I feel.
  • He has a plan for my life, even if I don’t know where he’s guiding me.
  • He adopted me into his family. I’m a daughter of the King.

If my grumbling and complaining is a reaction to someone else, I try to think about things from their perspective (a strategy my mom taught me). Maybe they’re having a bad day or I’m misunderstanding their intent. When possible, it’s better to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

This extends to your husbands and kids, too! I know I have a harder time extending it to them because I love them the most: I feel most comfortable around them, so I generally have my guard down and don’t always take the time to think through things from their perspective. Just a few more of the many opportunities for me to grow!

Speak up

When you feel misunderstood, overlooked, and alone, how do you react? Do you have any strategies that have worked well for you?

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