What I Learned When I (Sorta) Stopped Complaining

I gave up complaining for Lent this year, and it was not without some reluctance.

This idea was on my heart for weeks before I formally declared my intention to follow it. I hesitated.

“God, isn’t there anything else I can do to better appreciate You during this season?”

After a lot of prayer and reflection I got a resounding “Nope,” and that was that.

Why did I hesitate? Not because it was going to be a hard habit to break. Not because I enjoyed being a brat. Not even because I was afraid to let God down.

Honestly, I knew I inevitably would let Him down. We all do—and not just during Lent. But by His great love, He forgives us every time.

No; I was afraid because I struggle with trust. I had a creeping feeling that shutting the door to complaint would invite God to challenge me in all sorts of ways. I knew the experience would test me—after all, Christ himself was tempted by actual Satan in the desert for 40 days. If that huge test could be fruitful for him, how could it not be for me?

After all, it’s pretty safe to say I need more practice at virtue and faith than he ever did.

Turned out that creeping fear was correct. During Lent, I faced challenges in almost every area: my home life, my motherhood, my job, my physical health, and my self-esteem. My patience (of which I  have precious little, I admit) was tried again and again.

And, again and again, I let the exasperated sigh slip past my lips and the nasty spiral of self-pity swirl about my mind (even if, to my credit, I didn’t voice it nearly as often as before). I tried to catch myself whenever this happened and replace my complaints with prayers.

It was a frustrating cycle, but it was incredibly eye-opening. I learned to better differentiate negative things and negative thinking. I learned that one doesn’t necessitate the other.

Negative things happen outside of my control. They can be trying, exhausting, or unfair—but they are outside of me.

Negative thinking, on the other hand, is completely within my control. It poisons my mood and my perceptions in ways that are more trying and exhausting than the external event ever was. Worse, its tight grip is difficult to loosen if I let it get away from me.

Awful things happen. They just do. Something I’ve discovered about myself recently is a deep-seated, unhelpful myth of control that ultimately makes me weak in the face of adversity. I stubbornly want to believe that I can foresee and control the things that happen in my life; I want to believe that, despite all indications to the contrary, I can keep my life under control by some impossible exertion of will.

As a result, I have a hard time facing trial without really just diving deep into that trial. I hold onto my faith at my core, but my perspective narrows into despair. I struggle to see the good on the horizon—to see the good that’s right beside me even during such trials.

Complaining is voicing that despair. It’s an attempt to offload some of that despair onto whomever might be near enough to take it from me, in the hopes it will ease the pain.

But it never does. Despair doesn’t divide; it multiplies. Sharing it with someone else doesn’t make my struggle any smaller—it just makes our mutual struggle even bigger.

When it comes to day-to-day habits, it’s hard to be less productive—and less Christian—than that, right?

So 40 days without complaining (let’s be honest: with minimal or at least more mindful complaining) taught me that giving in to my own despair is hurtful not just to me, but to those around me.

That being said, negative events still suck. And sometimes we need help to get through them.

I struggled, early on, to understand how I was supposed to ask for help if I wasn’t allowed to complain. That sounds ridiculous now.

Now I see that there’s a glaring difference between complaining and seeking support. One is selfish; the other is an important way to participate in community and humanity, especially in the context of our own families.

God Himself said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Even when things were perfect in Eden, we were not meant to live this life on our own.

Now, long after the Fall, how much more must we need the companionship and support of our neighbors, friends, and family?

So I’ve learned to ask for help, honestly and lovingly, instead of complaining about my circumstances and hoping someone overhears and steps in to lend a hand.

And I’ve learned that that’s how things improve—that’s how I feel better on a tough day. Not by venting my frustrations or offloading my despair, but by approaching people I love with an honest expression of my struggles and asking for a shoulder to lean on. They always provide it. And I always feel lighter when I stand upright again.

Have you tried to set aside negative thinking and complain less? Find me on on Facebook and tell me how it’s going. I’d love to hear about your experience!

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