Recently, my husband and I decided to go for an ice-cream. I ordered a cone for each of us. The lady told me the chocolate flavor I wanted was not available. I made a second choice and then turned to vent to my husband about how ridiculous it was they didn’t have my favorite ice-cream flavor. I opened my mouth to spew out a tirade, but then checked myself. After all, it was ice-cream on the beach, why ruin it with moaning and criticism?
This journey of closing my mouth when I want to vent has not been an easy one for me. You see, I complain a lot. Or rather, I used to complain a lot.
I would complain out of frustration or because something didn’t go the way I expected. Work became a minefield of things to complain about. It could be an email that set me off or a phone call with a client or a colleague who has different ideas about how to complete a task. Since my husband gets the brunt of my complaining, I think he became scared to ask me how my day went.
I can be pretty vocal in my grievances. One day, I stopped to listen to my complaints as I vented and realized how petty and small they sounded. I also realized that complaining had become a habit for me, a habit that I did not want to be known for. In almost any situation I could find something to grumble about.
I started to wonder; could I even go a day without venting my feelings on everything that happened to me? I decided to try complaining less. My complaining had become a problem so I knew I needed to extreme in nipping it in the bud. Like an alcoholic, I started by challenging myself to not complain for just one day. For that one day I did not allow myself to complain about anything. I completed the first day and decided to try again the next. Some days I managed to not complain. Other days when I realized what I was doing I had to clamp my mouth shut in the middle of a rant.
I started searching the Bible for scriptures I could memorize and learn to say to myself when I felt like complaining. This is when I found Philippians 2:14-15 (VOICE): Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other, so you will be found innocent and blameless; you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation. Shine like stars across the land.
It surprised me that living without complaining is one way to show with my life that I am God’s child. If I needed motivation to quit complaining, this verse was it. When I felt like complaining I would pull out this verse and try memorize it rather open my mouth and vent. I often find myself thinking, “Shine like stars...” when I feel like sharing my frustrations.
At the beginning I would complain about nothing. Even if I received the wrong order at a restaurant I would keep quiet about it. Innately, I knew that there was a problem with this. There are times when something is wrong and I need to be able to protest it in such a way that the problem is resolved. Keeping quiet when a situation called for me to speak up caused me feel helpless.
I began to wonder if there was a way to complain that was helpful. I started researching complaining and I learnt that there are two types of complaining: venting and problem-solving.
Venting is the type of complaining I had been doing a lot of. I had been complaining simply to get something off my chest, not to change the situation or resolve the problem. I was stunned to discover that this kind of complaining creates the feeling of powerlessness in me and leaves me feeling hopeless, victimized and bad about myself. Those aren’t words that I want used to describe me.
The second type of complaining is problem-solving. This type of complaining leaves me feeling empowered because something happens to change the situation I am frustrated about. In my position as head of a TV channel, whenever my staff came to me with complaints about something I would tell them, “I don't want your problems, I want your solutions.” I knew that venting them wouldn’t change the situation, but brainstorming solutions would. Without realizing it, I had been encouraging those around me to practice the art of complaining effectively but not practicing it myself.
Now, when I feel like venting, I tell myself, “I don't want your problems, I want your solutions.” If there is something I can do to fix the situation I do it. Perhaps this means calling a client and clearing up miscommunications, or it means asking the waiter to change my incorrect order. Instead of venting to my husband I am now taking positive action to change the things that frustrate me.
Each day I go without venting I find I feel calmer. I feel more peaceful and I have more grace for the people around me. Now before I let off steam about something I'm trying to remember that by not venting I show others I'm a child of God.
Wendy van Eyck is married to Xylon, who talks non-stop about cycling, and makes her laugh. She writes for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, ever believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday through a foreign land with just a backpack. You can follow Wendy’s story and subscribe to receive her free ebook, “Life, life and more life” at ilovedevotionals.com. She would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.