An Experiment in (not) Complaining

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Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a conversation which you absolutely hated, only to discover that it was due to the other party’s constant whining about their circumstances?

Have you ever been in a decent mood and dragged yourself downward by dwelling on all the things going wrong – or at least not going right?

Have you ever heard those dreaded words from the back of a car: “Are we there yet?”

Then you, my friend, have had experience with complaining.

I realized recently just how much I complain about my life and circumstances. I slip easily into a negative mindset and just as easily let those thoughts slip out of my mouth. It effects not only my mood and actions, but those of others as well, and, as a child of God, that is not something I should be allowing to happen.

This realization hit me about a month ago, and, as soon as it did, I began to notice every time I complained to myself or someone else. I often didn’t make it through an hour without some negative thought passing through my head or out of my lips. There were a few key times in which I especially noticed this unpleasant tendancy of mine, including when I got home from work, when I felt tired and unmotivated, and when other people’s actions interfered with what I wanted.

I decided that I would spend the next month doing my best not to complain and seeing how it effected me. This time included three weeks of counseling at camps, a few very long days (and one night) at work, and the gloriously high temperatures of late summer in Virginia. Here’s what I learned.

I can’t do it.

Right from the beginning, it became apparent that I was not able to keep myself from complaining by my own strength. Duh. But it was still something that I had to learn and remind myself of over and over again. Once I had that figured out, there was a lot more prayer involved in my quest to keep myself from the sin of complaining.

I really can change my own mood.

Remember when you were a kid and really angry about something and your mom would tell you to just decide to be happy and you could turn yourself around? Just me? Okay.

Anyway, the last month has shown me that my mother actually knew what she was talking about. Who would’ve guessed? There are still lovely things like hormones and bad circumstances to be dealt with, but choosing to keep a positive attitude about things really does make a difference. Sometimes, I would catch myself talking about how awful things were at work one day and realize it was putting me in a downright bad mood. When I changed my thoughts to what was good about the situation (I have a job, some of my coworkers are really great, etc.) or to something else entirely (what to blog about when I got home, how great this morning’s run was, etc.) my mood instantly began to rise. Even just the action of putting a smile on my face helped a lot.

The people I interact with impact my actions.

There’s a saying that goes something like this: Show me a man’s five closest friends and I’ll show you his future. And that is true. When I’m around people who complain themselves, I am much faster to complain. When I’m with cheerful people, I’m quicker to be positive. Choose your friends wisely, for you will become more like them, whether you want to be or not.

There are other things to talk about.

I never realized how many of my conversations consisted of 1) complaining or 2) gossip. Since I included gossip in the category of “negative thoughts”, that had to go as well. And as it turns out, there are other things to talk about.

The world is full of interesting and good things to talk and think about – we need not dwell on the things that upset us.

Complaining is a form of pride.

How often do you complain for someone else’s benefit? If you’re anything like me, it’s not very often. Complaining is all about me, myself, and I. It is all about what I can get out of life and what will make me happy – not what I can do to please God or serve others. It puts all of our focus on ourselves, which is not how God would have us live our lives as His children.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity (giving the picture of a truly humble man): “Probably all you will think about him  is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him…He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

I complain a lot. Still.

The past month has not cured me of my desire to complain (or my all-too-frequent fulfillment of that desire, as my family can tell you). I am still working on this discipline, and I probably will be for a while. Thankfully, when I get discouraged, I can return to the first point: I can’t do it on my own.

I’ve learned a lot from just the realization of how much I complain in a day, and I am grateful for the conviction, painful as it may be at times. I hope that my experiment in complaining will cause you to examine your own life and thoughts and will lead you to a more God-focused, self-forgetful way of being. Because that is what we are made to do.

Kira

What helps you keep yourself from complaining?
Are there any places/circumstances that trigger complaint?

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