Nothing damages a relationship more than complaining. It is a poison that causes the recipient of the complaint to become frustrated and distant, eliciting further complaints from the complainer. In fact, if you want to wreck a relationship, no matter the type, simply complain.
Complaining stems from internal unhappiness or irritability, not from an external cause like many complainers think. “I am unhappy because my wife loads the dishwasher in the wrong way. If she loads it the right way then I will be happy.” The man complains to his wife about her dishwasher protocol, to which she humbly complies. The husband is happy initially, but in short time, even though the dishwasher is now loaded according to his preference, his unhappiness returns. Why is he still unhappy? It turns out that there are too many of his wife’s long hairs in the bathtub. He complains about that, and even if the wife diligently removes them, it will have only a temporary positive effect on him.
A person complains because they think their unhappiness is a result of their environment or other people, something outside them, when in reality it is from their own unrealistic expectations, disordered passions, demonic influences, or active sins. You can reshape the environment to remove every imaginable complaint the person has, but since the foundational way they see the world is incorrect, there will be no long-term benefit. The complainer will then have to invent fantastical scenarios that can be complained about, attributing motives and impulses that don’t exist.
In one of my relatives, I’ve noticed that her negative mood precedes the complaint. When I see that her body language is tense, I know that a major complaint about me or someone else is coming, and sure enough it does a while later. My relative thinks she is tense because of the external cause, but really the tension came before the awareness of the cause. The mind projects the cause of the unhappiness onto something worldly, but even once that cause is resolved, the unhappiness either remains or burrows into the psyche to erupt later.
Complainers think their complaints are increasing their happiness, but it actually reinforces their unhappiness by making them believe that happiness is due to external situations or events. Saints who were imprisoned and tortured actually thanked their persecutors for delivering them to Lord Jesus Christ through martyrdom. Russian writers thanked their jail sentences, of living in abject squalor, as a way to learn the truth that can be displayed later through their writing. And you complain because another driver on the road cut you off? Because your spouse left clothes on the floor? Because your roommate’s music is too loud? Our lives here will never be peaceful and heavenly. For you to seek heaven in this life is unreasonable, even delusional, and shows a lack of belief in Heaven for those who faithfully serve Christ.
One habit that will make you prone to complaining is maintaining a mental ledger of the deeds or favors you do for other people. I took out the trash and did the dishes today, so I expect my roommate to clean the floors tomorrow, but when he doesn’t clean the floors, I get upset at him for not abiding by my ledger. Keeping track of all the things you did for a person alongside what they did for you is called reciprocity in the secular world but greed in the Christian. Reciprocity is what the atheists do. As Christians we are called to give and be generous, not to maintain an accounting of the works and good deeds we perform.
My roommate doesn’t want to take out the trash? I’ll take it out every single time and not expect him to return the favor. If I’m doing the right thing, my reward will be from God, not from man. A friend doesn’t offer to buy me a meal when I cooked for him a dozen times? I will keep serving him meals as I strive to be a Christian full of the love of God, without expecting anything in return, even a thank you. It’s better if my gift doesn’t receive a thank you for I know my reward will instead come from God. Your “fair share” of work is to do everything you’re able to do, in service to Lord Jesus Christ, even to those who are not paying you back, because it’s through you that the light of our Lord is brought to others.
It’s easy for me to write an article about the toxic nature of complaining and the selfishness of maintaining a deeds ledger, but it’s hard to put into practice. I struggle with the Christian ideal. I find it hard to give to a person who never gives back and I fight to withhold complaints about something trivial that is irritating me, but the closer I get to God, the easier these tasks become. It turns out that those with weak faith are the most prone to complaining, because they believe this world is all there is, and that it must conform to their whims, desires, and tastes. I aim not to fall for this folly. This world is continually passing away, and so complaining about that which will soon not exist will not change my internal state one bit, but worshiping God surely will.
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