If you give yourself permission to vent, you may be missing a moment to shine.
I've always been a glass-half-full kind of girl. My friends will tell you I'm quick to look for the bright side of most situations. I'm not a complainer. At least that's what I like to think.
A couple weeks ago, I found myself in a depressing cycle. It started with my dissatisfaction with a certain relationship. The person was failing to meet my expectations, which disappointed me. That disappointment led to anger, which led to grumpiness.
Feeling the need to "process," I vented my frustration to my exercise buddy. Although she tried to console me, my venting caused my self-righteousness to rise and made me even grumpier.
Over the next few days, I stewed over the situation and "vented" to several other people. As I griped about my unfair situation, I found myself not only being frustrated with the initial relationship but being critical of others as well. Soon it seemed as if everyone was letting me down.
My dissatisfaction grew until I reached a breaking point. Tearfully, I took it out on a friend who happened to call at the wrong moment. When I hung up the phone, I realized something had gone terribly wrong. Instead of helping my situation, venting had blown it out of proportion.
When I think of complainers, I think of the Israelites. They elevated griping to new heights. While they were under unbearable oppression as slaves in Egypt, they complained that God had forgotten them. Understandable. I think I would have felt justified in voicing my concerns, too. But when God miraculously freed them from slavery and led them out of Egypt, the people continued to gripe every chance they got.
As a smug college student, I remember reading about the Israelites and thinking, what a bunch of whiners! I mean, they see God do incredible miracles, but the moment things aren't going exactly right, they start crying like a rich kid whose lost Xbox privileges.
The Israelites seem constantly dissatisfied with their present circumstances. When you take a look at why the people were protesting, however, their concerns were fairly serious: food, water, protection, safety, their lives.
My complaints, on the other hand, are trivial: Perceived mistreatment by another person. Less than ideal circumstances in my personal life. Not getting things I believe I deserve. OK, so I may not be wandering in the desert, but these things can still seem unfair.
The Dark Side
The term "venting" sounds deceptively therapeutic. The truth is, venting involves voicing frustrations that are often damaging to a person or a cause. By giving ourselves permission to "vent," we allow words to pour out unchecked, taking little time to consider whether they're gossip, slander or just good, old-fashioned complaint.
I can think of times when I have listened to a friend "vent" only to walk away with a diminished view of a person or ministry. The enemy seems to use such unrestrained moments to stall and discredit God's work, and even mire a believer in sin. Proverbs 10:19 says, "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."
I am very aware of personal venting sessions in which sin played a starring role. And while griping rarely solves anything (although it may deliver a fleeting sense of satisfaction), there is more at stake than wasted breath.
As a kid I sang a jaunty song to the words of Philippians 2:14: "Do everything without complaining or arguing." At the time I thought it was a verse parents used to brainwash their children into doing chores willingly. But the next verse reveals a deeper significance: "so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe."
Let that sink in. It's a provocative statement. A lack of grumbling and argument is the trademark of a blameless and pure life. Not only that, but it sets believers apart from those who don't know Christ — in a way so brilliant it's like stars on a dark night.
Our world is marked by complaint. Complaint against our government. Complaint against the educational system. Complaint against those who bring us food, bag our groceries, let their cell phones go off during movies. Our freedom of speech is the freedom to complain. And we take that freedom very seriously.
A person who doesn't criticize something is a novelty. He makes you wonder why he's satisfied. As believers, we have a compelling reason to not complain. We have been shown undeserved grace and given unfathomable riches through Jesus Christ. In light of this, complaining about anything seems — well, silly.
I say I trust an all-powerful, good, loving God, but when that trust is put to the test through less-than-ideal circumstances, I often fail. Instead of acknowledging that God controls the details of my life, I moan and groan about how unacceptable they are. A life where grumbling is absent, however, speaks volumes about a person's trust in God.
Like any vice, venting must be replaced by something else — contentment. After challenging the Philippians to do everything without complaining, Paul says: "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:12-13). When I become frustrated with my circumstances, I need to ask the Lord to resolve the situation.
Walking in contentment also requires living with an attitude of gratitude. When I think about everything the Lord has done for me, many of my problems seem insignificant. When I begin to thank God for His kindnesses toward me, I find it difficult — even impossible — to criticize.
When I hung up the phone in tears that day, I spent some time talking things through with God. As I focused my thoughts on Him, my perspective began to change. I started to see how petty my grievances were.
Another powerful weapon in the fight against a critical spirit is love. 1 Peter 4:8 says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." It's amazing how I can overlook the faults of someone I truly love. When I adopt a loving attitude toward fellow believers, it frees me to forgive offenses — which Christ has done for me.
That conversation with my exercise buddy would have gone differently, had love been at the forefront of my motives. Instead of grumbling about what this person was doing to me, I would have been examining how my selfish attitude was contributing to the problem. Venting allowed me to indulge in a victim mentality that ultimately made things worse.
Along with contentment and love, children of God are called to humility. The motivation behind most of my faultfinding is selfishness. Philippians reveals a secret to the complaint-free life: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
I don't know about you, but when I'm venting I am on a crusade — for number one. I'm the one who's in the right. I'm the one who's a victim. I'm the one who deserves better.
In contrast, Christ showed ultimate humility by going to the cross for those who mocked and abused Him. Talk about having a reason to complain! And yet, even while suffering a humiliating death, Jesus never uttered a self-seeking word. Instead He asked His Father to forgive His murderers. That attitude, unexplainable by human standards, captured people's attention and changed lives. Imagine the difference I could make if I embraced the same attitude.
I'm learning that as a fallen human being, my tendency is to complain. But my goal is to have the attitude of Christ, rich in contentment, love and humility. That will require keeping the vent closed. After all, Jesus has given so much for me. I really can't complain.
Copyright 2006 Suzanne Hadley. All rights reserved.