Are You a Covert Complainer?
by Kristina Matz
We've all heard about the poor frog in the pot of boiling water. If you put the little guy in the pot while the water is still a comfortable temperature, slowly increasing the temperature, he will cook without ever jumping out. The change is so subtle that he doesn't sense any danger and the consequences are disastrous for him! I fear that many of us parents have become frogs in our own pots of water.
The Depths of Complaining
When I think about complaining I am reminded of the depths of the ocean. If you were to jump off of the edge of a pier you would be immediately met with the depth of the waters below. There would be no question as to whether or not you were in the ocean - it would overwhelm you, quite literally! The same could be true when you think about such statements like, "I am so annoyed by this stage of parenting" or "I hate putting my laundry away". These are obvious complaints and I cannot imagine a person who would begin to argue that point.
But what about when you're at the beach with your little ones and you only want to put your feet in the water... Are you still in the ocean? There are many of us that are wading in the waters of complaining and we are oblivious to the dangers that lurk there! Let me give you an example...
It's 5 o'clock and you know that your husband is planning to be home at 6 o'clock. You have an hour to make dinner so you head into the kitchen and get to work. You're about ten minutes into your prep when there is an important need that must be addressed. Then another. And another. With all of the interruptions you are now thirty minutes behind your desired schedule and dinner will definitely not be ready when you wanted it to be. Fast forward to 6 o'clock when your husband gets home. Do you greet him with a warm smile and a sweet embrace? Or do you meet him with a frazzled look and a loud sigh while you explain why you couldn't have dinner ready on time?
One definition of complaining describes it as "expressed dissatisfaction or annoyance about a state of affairs or an event." While words are often used in our forms of complaints, we can also express our dissatisfaction or annoyance with our sighs, our body language, or our overall attitude. So maybe you're not a blatant complainer. Maybe you never even thought about yourself as a complainer. But, are you a "covert complainer"?
Strength In Numbers
What I have increasingly noticed is our temptation to do this much more often when we are together with other parents. We feel some sort of solidarity with them when we all share our annoyances and frustrations with one another. As one mom shares how frustrating it was for her to unpack everything after a recent trip, suddenly we are emboldened to share our own frustrations over a similar household chore that we found displeasure in.
Scripture is clear in this area. Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:14 to "do all things without grumbling or disputing..." and in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to "give thanks in all circumstance; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." There is no caveat for parents. No allowance for the "hard days" or the "tough seasons" of life. In fact, if we look to the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we see that we should be men and women of gratitude. Our speech, our wordless sighs, our tone, our overall attitudes should be categorized by joyful thanksgiving rather than annoyed complaining.
Now, please don't misunderstand me... We need community. And we need to be sharing our burdens with those in our trusted circle of community. We cannot fulfill the call in scripture to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2) if we are not doing this.
Sharing or Complaining?
So then part of the challenge comes in deciphering the difference between sharing our burdens and complaining about them. This is important both to the one giving information and to the one receiving the information. Let us first look at it from the point of view of the giver...
Most everything can be clarified when we ask ourselves this one question, "Who gets the glory?" A complaint is always for our own glory. We want attention. We want affirmation. We want consolation. We want it to be about us. Christ said that if we wanted to come after Him, we will need to deny ourselves daily (Luke 9:23). Complaining does not deny ourselves, but rather works to inflate us. If what we're looking for is a pat on the back, an "Atta girl", or some sympathy, the safest thing to do is keep our mouths closed.
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! - Psalm 141:3
On the contrary, when we genuinely share our struggles and our current hardships as unto the glory of the Lord, we are looking for help. We are looking for Christian fellowship that will encourage us to keep on going, keep on doing to good, hard work that the Lord has set before us. We are seeking wise counsel on how to do our tasks better, so that the Lord might receive even more glory. We can go back to our question, "Who gets the glory?" Good and godly sharing involves a seeking of God's glory, not our own.
If you are on the receiving end of information, be cautious as to how you respond. Before Paul instructs us to bear one another's burdens we are first cautioned to keep watch on ourselves, lest we be tempted (Galatians 6:1). If we are in the midst of complaining, how can we turn the conversation to gratitude? What truth from scripture can we bring to the discussion as a reminder of God's faithfulness and a catalyst for encouragement? While we know what community is not for, we also know that is it good. And one of the incredible blessings that comes out of our godly community is a continual building up.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. - 1 Thessalonians 5:11
In the same way that we are responsible to give thanks as opposed to complain, we are also responsible to build up and encourage rather than heap more bricks onto the foundation of complaining that we are listening to. I pray that we can all see the areas of covert complaining that we have been unaware of in our lives and strive to turn the glory from us to the Lord!