By Evelyn Eng
My friend’s Facebook post caught my attention. She wanted to stop complaining and challenged her friends: “Who wants to join me?”
“How long?” I asked.
She only meant for the day, but I told her it takes 40 days to make a habit, and thus the challenge began for us both. “You’re on—40 days, it is.”
Immediately, I became conscious of every stray word, whining, and complaining. “Mom, you always complain about everything. How will you be able to stop?” Adult children can be so encouraging and yet truthful.
“Do I really complain that much?” I asked myself.
I didn’t stop the first few days, but I became mindfully aware of how uncontrollable the tongue could be. Then I got a message that my friend had discovered a book to help her stop complaining. I wanted to know how but was too busy with work and life to read just then. So she summarized the book in a word: thankfulness.
The Bible says to be thankful in all circumstances. So I began to pray every time I felt like complaining. When people did things that irritated me, I prayed for them. I thanked God for them and the situation. Each day I began to list five things to be thankful for and those five things became five people. Some names were written down day after day. I prayed constantly for those people. If I didn’t, I knew I would be complaining about them.
Instead, they were on my prayer list. Over time my negative attitude toward them changed. I could truly feel thankful for them. I could not believe that prayer had the power to change me.
As the 40 days were coming to an end, I realized how much less I was complaining. My heart became thankful. I was praying for people more than usual. And I was at peace. I didn’t want to give this up.
“Let’s keep going, another 40 days,” I challenged my friend. So she and I continued the pledge to stop complaining. Even beyond that season, I continued throughout the year.
That was only the beginning. My prayer journal filled up with names and reasons to be thankful. There was no room for complaining. My heart was full of gratitude for people. Those people I found hard to be grateful for, well, I just prayed for them repeatedly. I prayed for God to improve my attitude toward them. I prayed for God to meet them at their point of need and to fix whatever needed to be changed. I saw the changes, not only in me, but in others, all through my daily prayers (and I am sure the prayers of many others) as I drew closer to God. I no longer wanted or needed to complain as much. I learned that thankfulness is the secret to a lack of grumbling.
Knowing Better than God?
When we complain, we are basically telling God we know better than he does. We try to define people in terms of our expectations. And it doesn’t lead to peace.
The Bible says we are to offer hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). I will never forget when my husband offered our home to an acquaintance as a place to stay indefinitely. I can’t say that I never grumbled, but after he stayed with us about a month, I realized how ugly a person I was becoming. I was a grudging hostess. God used this man to help me look into the mirror. By the time he left, another month later, I think he may have actually felt welcomed in our house until he found his own place to call home. I don’t think I learned the full lesson of complaining then, and I am still in process. But God has always taught me lessons about my grumblings when I make myself ready to listen.
When God lists those who are evil, malicious, and God-haters in Romans 1:28-31, he mentions those who are gossips, arrogant, and boastful. Complaining leads to arrogance as we regard ourselves and our needs as more important than others’ needs. We put ourselves before God, and God will leave us to our depraved minds. In other words, we continue to complain.
Misery Loves Company
Over time, my circumstances changed. My house was being painted and everything got moved around or covered up. Some days I could not find my journal. I became inconsistent in thanking God and praying for people.
Then I began doing some traveling for extended periods of time. Somehow my thankfulness journal got left behind, and I never bought a replacement. While not being intentionally thankful and praying, I found myself complaining again. As time went on I stopped listing the names to be thankful for or even thinking about these people. I began to notice that I was complaining more. I needed to be deliberate to be truly thankful.
While traveling I visited someone who complained constantly. As she complained about people we knew, I joined in with my own observations, complaining along with her. In particular I noticed that being around certain people caused me to complain even more. Without my thankfulness journal in hand, I found myself doing the same thing—I saw the splinter in others, but not the log in my own eye.
Now I am beginning to see both. I am gradually putting myself back into the habit of gratitude toward God and the people he has put in my life. This is how I will keep myself from complaining. It is a lifelong, uphill journey to remain thankful.
For this daily recommitment, I think of five people—these may be people I am truly grateful for, people I’d really rather be complaining about, or those who are in my sphere of influence. And whenever I find myself sitting still, I lift these people up in prayer for that day. As I do so, my own spirit changes. I have an attitude of gratefulness.
No More Excuses
Jesus told the Jews who were grumbling about him to stop (John 6:41-43). The Israelites wandered the wilderness, grumbling all the way (Numbers 14:27). Complaining is, in part, a sign that we are not trusting God to do his work in our circumstances or with other people’s hearts.
When I have a bad attitude toward another person, I now force myself to thank God for bringing that person in my life and for what that person is teaching me; I pray for God to change me in attitude and action to reflect Christ. Looking inward, God will mold me into the person he desires me to become.
Each day I am grateful for another day to live and serve God, to help him build his kingdom. He is the one who can help me stop complaining. I use a journal to help me write down my prayers and the names. If I can’t find my journal, I grab another notepad. If I am running late or oversleep, I make it a priority to do it later that day before I go to bed. I have no more excuses. Journaling along with early morning prayers of thankfulness motivates me to start the day off right, striving to live with no complaints.
When I think of people in the Bible that God has used, he did not complain about their background (Ruth the Moabite), their attitude (the timidity of Moses to be God’s spokesman), their lifestyle (the woman at the well), their young age (Mary, the mother of Jesus), and many other characteristics or deficiencies that might cause us to complain about others. God saw only the potential and chose to use each one of these people, seeing them at their best. Do we not owe it to ourselves and God to do likewise for the people around us?
Let’s thank God for everything that he has done in our lives, acknowledging he is in control and trusting him.
Evelyn Eng is a freelance writer in Florida.
Why We’re Grateful
Last October a Harris Poll reported what Americans were most grateful for:
• 4 in 10 said they had more to be grateful for than in past years
• Younger generations (Millennials and GenXers) were the most likely to declare that they had more to be grateful for this year
• Of the choices offered, having a healthy family and good family relationships topped everyone’s list (84% each)
• 65% of people are glad to have good technology that’s easily accessible
• 57% feel good about their work situation