“Complaining isn’t a vice because God doesn’t want to listen to our whining. Quite the contrary. It is a vice because it undermines our trust in him and his providence in our lives.”
By Megan Schrieber
With the arrival of the first family grandchild, my Irish father took on the name ‘Grumpy.’ He had a great sense of humor and saw the truth in our accurately coined moniker. My father earned this title after years and years of being a complainer. His most notorious line to displeasing situations was “That’s annoying.” It seemed fairly innocent, but when compounded over and over for every situation that is slightly askew, it became, well, annoying. In each of these moments this simple phrase produced an intentional shift away from seeing God’s grace to seeing the devil’s dysfunction.
Like a bad gene, this catch phrase worked its way into our own family life. My children decided to add the article ‘so’ in order to intensify the meaning. They meant business and each sibling was bound to know his place.
One summer, the term was used so frequently we instituted a “That’s So Annoying” jar. Each time I heard it, the proclaimer had to throw a nickel in the jar. One offender would just walk by and drop a dollar to have a day filled with 20 comebacks to whatever irked him.
Not surprisingly, the jar did not work; however, it highlighted the alarming frequency of usage which called everyone to action. Happily, I can report that the term has been nearly eradicated from our family’s vernacular.
Beyond just being annoying, focusing on this pithy comment led to the revelation that we were choosing to see a problem instead of God’s presence. Over and over we were fixing our eyes, not on him, but away from him. And in time, it began to erode our faith life. When complaining becomes a way of life, we simply become blind to the redemptive power of God present in every situation. As the vice takes root more deeply, it becomes more sinister. It actually limits our ability to see God’s omnipresence in the everyday, in the mundane, in the predictable.
In our humanity, we tend to use times of complaining as means of ‘venting’ or ‘expressing our feelings’, but what it becomes is simply an excuse to step out of God’s grace. This is not to say that being a faithful person leaves us ignoring problems or irritating situations, but as faithful people we are called to have fortitude and not allow these situations to have an influence in our lives.
The better place to start when we have a serious complaint is to take it to our Father. Letting him listen and reveal how these challenges are opportunities for growth is a simple act allowing us to step back into grace. It is the invitation to God to showcase his redemptive power in our lives. This refocusing reminds us of who is really in charge, and from there we can take our cues as to how to proceed.
There are grave warnings against complaining in Scripture. Exodus makes it clear that the Israelites spent a lot more time looking for the Land of Cana than they needed to because of their complaining. And St. Paul offers us this advice: ”Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generations, among whom you shine like lights in the world” (Phil 2: 14-15).
Complaining isn’t a vice because God doesn’t want to listen to our whining. Quite the contrary. It is a vice because it undermines our trust in him and his providence in our lives. God wants to be present in our lives moment by moment. Complaining pushes him out of our view. Like the Israelites learning the hard way, we get to where God wants us to be much faster if we listen to him instead complaining along the way.