Maybe it’s that time of year (school year that is), but lately many of the conversations I have had with people start with a complaint, either from me or them. We’re tired, stressed out, overworked, physically hurting, emotionally spent, and ready for summer break. We don’t mean to be negative, but the fall in Genesis created a world where situations are hard and our bodies grow weary. Our sinful hearts want attention, and, for one reason or another, groaning and complaining garner attention faster than rejoicing.
I do not believe there is a problem with sharing our struggles with one another, but I think there are limits and ways to do it in God’s light. Galatians 6:2 reminds us to “carry each other’s burdens,” so we are meant to be open and honest with each other. This chapter goes on to say, though, that we should be careful and test ourselves lest we take pride in ourselves alone. It seems that at times our “sharing” of burdens becomes a form of pride in how hard our individual lives are. Galatians reminds us that while we are carrying each other’s burdens, we are still responsible for carrying our own load. We are meant to bolster each other up when we have burdens of sins and sorrows, but we are still meant to do the heavy lifting of our loads.
Sometimes we just complain to hear ourselves complain. God makes it pretty clear that he does not like a grumbling heart. Besides plainly speaking it in the New Testament several times, he also provides an account of how he dealt with the grumbling Israelites in the book of Numbers chapter 11. They complained that they didn’t have good food to eat, so God sent down fire. Then they repented, so God stopped the fire. It wasn’t long, though, before the complaints began again. God gave them meat, but he caused it to burn up and become a plague before they could consume it. That’s righteous anger and strong evidence that God does not tolerate whining and complaining. Before I speak my complaints, I want to test them to ensure that I’m sharing them for the right reasons. Ultimately I want to developing the rejoicing heart that Paul talks about in Philippians 4. When I meet trials, I want to be able to rejoice in the Lord rather than complain in the flesh.
This observation of my own conversation as well as the conversation around me also has made me realize just how easy it is to fall into the trap of one-upping one another with our problems rather than listening. Usually what happens when someone shares a burden or just complains for sake of complaining, the listener will share their own similar burden in an effort to relate, but it diminishes the other person’s burden. Just today while walking between classes, another teacher shared that she was suffering from a physical pain; rather than expressing sympathy or pointing her toward the blessings of God, I responded with my own physical pain. How does that kind of response help her at all except make her feel that her pain is less important? I don’t know her motive for sharing this burden with me, but my response should always be one that reflects Christ.
My response should be one that is cheerful and encouraging. Proverbs 17:22 says that a joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed heart dries up the bones. This doesn’t mean I diminish the person’s complaint by smiling and telling a joke. It means that in a loving way, I remind them of the goodness of God. This also means that when my flesh starts complaining to myself and hosting its own little pity party, I find a kind and loving way to remind myself of the goodness of God.
I am making two points here I believe. Firstly, we should test our own words before they come out. Before we speak a complaint, we should look into our heart and decide if we are sharing to allow someone to help or sharing because we want attention. If it’s a complaint, we should turn that complaint into a praise to God. Secondly, when someone shares a burden with us, we should respond with Christ’s love rather than one-upping or dismissing their statement. Don’t allow them to continue too long in a pity party, but be sympathetic and loving.