Live Without Complaining

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

We've all probably complained at some point in life. At the same time, we all probably agree that complaining doesn't solve anything, nor is it an attractive character trait. Most of us don't like to be around complainers, as they tend to find something wrong in just about everything. Many people, though, aren't aware that they are complaining or that their complaining is damaging the morale of their family, friends, or colleagues and hindering their efforts to find solutions to the problems they are bemoaning.

To clarify what constitutes complaining, here are some thought-provoking and telling definitions and synonyms:

To utter expressions of grief, pain, uneasiness, censure, or resentment; to lament; to murmur; to bewail; to make a formal accusation against a person. (Webster)

… grumble, growl, crab, gripe, fume, clamor, raise a fuss, grouch, kick, squawk, beef, holler, moan, groan, bellyache, criticize, carp, nag, pick, give a hard time, find fault, deprecate, disapprove, deplore, whine, fret. (Rodale's Synonym Finder)

Do we want others to think that all we do is grumble, nag, or find fault? Do we really want to express or embody grief, resentment, or pain and allow them into our experience, our lives, or our bodies? How do we deal with others who whine or raise a fuss? How do we live without complaining?

Let's look at why people complain. It seems that a lot of complaining comes from a perspective of lack or fear -- fear of not being treated fairly, not having enough, not getting the best, not finding the right solution, not being recognized appropriately. There's a lot of "not" there. That's because complaining emphasizes the negative, trying to take away the triumph of the positive. Complaining is wasted energy that would drain productive energy.

So how do we recharge ourselves and others?

  • First of all, we turn the negative into a positive by trusting this truth: "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches" (KJV Phil 4:19). All our needs are richly met. There's no reason to worry about the "not."
  • Next, we can do what the Bible tells us to do: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph 4:29).

If we're ministers of grace, we can't possibly be conveyors of complaints. Complaining is "corrupt communication." In my husband's words, "Good communication is such a rare commodity, why waste it with complaining?"

  • Complaining certainly doesn't "edify" anything; it doesn't lift someone or something up by showing its beauty; it doesn't improve or enlighten the understanding; it doesn't "minister grace." Rather, it spreads discontent. It's a downer, a kill-joy.
  • Complaining does not show strength of character or great insight. Rather, it reveals an inability or unwillingness to see and rejoice in other's good, or our own.
  • Complaining doesn't get a point across. It makes others stop listening.
  • Complaining doesn't show responsibility. It indicates a desire to blame someone or something else.
  • Complaining shows weakness, insecurity, the need for attention. It's very me-centered. Complainers, consciously or unconsciously, hold pity-me parties that get nowhere and make people not want to be around them. Is that what we want?

Wouldn't we rather…

  • be people with whom others want to be,
  • solve problems,
  • see what's good about something or someone,
  • feel and express joy?

Then we need to stop complaining and start encouraging and complimenting others, finding solutions, expressing gratitude, and magnifying what's good and right. Most of all, we need to speak with grace in our hearts so that we promote and perpetuate harmony.

Eugene Peterson interprets the above Bible verse this way:

Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. (The Message, Eph 4:29)

What a wonderful thought! If we make each word a gift, it's impossible to complain, for we would never think of giving a complaint as a gift.

Peterson continues with his interpretation:

Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.


Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

(The Message, Eph 4:30-32)

The Holy Spirit is certainly not full of complaint. The Holy Spirit is ever-active, pure, and gentle, giving us an invaluable gift that allows us to be sensitive to others. But we can't feel the Holy Spirit's gift moving through us, enabling us to be sensitive to others, if we're complaining.

Now many complainers will argue that they're actually trying to solve problems. But if there really is an issue that needs to be solved, we can't do it with a complaint attitude. Complaining tends to aggravate a problem, not fix it. We can't see what needs to be fixed if we're so focused on what's wrong. Complaining is all talk; problem-solving requires action.

Again, some would argue that we have to find the problem in order to fix it. This is true -- sometimes. But our motive must always be governed by the desire to make improvements. We look for the bug not to magnify it but to eliminate it. In so doing, we are also looking for what is good or right with the situation so we don't ruin what's working. We are solution-oriented.

If we really want to find satisfying resolutions and feel close to God, we must "put away" all the "bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking" from us (KJV Eph 4:31). How do we do so?

  • Stop and ask: "Am I raising an issue to fix it, or am I complaining just to vent?"
  • If we don't like our situation, figure out how we can change it.
  • If we can't change a situation, look at the situation differently; come at it from a different perspective.
  • Look for what's right.
  • Magnify the good.
  • Find something for which to be grateful.
  • Let go of negative feelings; don't hold onto them.
  • Smile. It's actually easier to smile than to frown. Smiling takes fewer muscles.
  • Don't say anything that won't generate positive energy or a productive outcome.
  • Replace complaining language with thoughtful, gentle, tenderhearted language.
  • Remember that the Holy Spirit is moving and breathing in us.

We also don't need to allow our own atmosphere of gratitude and joy to be polluted by other's complaining thoughts. So when others complain, we can help them see what's good. If they continue to complain, we can trust that God will tell us what we need to do or say to keep our mental environment pure. And we can rejoice in this powerful thought expressed in a hymn by Vivian Burnett:

Our gratitude is riches,
Complaint is poverty,
Our trials bloom in blessings,
They test our constancy.

When we come upon trials, are we going to pass the test? Is our trust in God's abundant goodness going to remain constant and, therefore, bless us? Or, are we going to let complaining, the tendency to see only the negative, drag us down into emotional and even physical poverty? No! Let's apply the antidote for complaint -- gratitude -- to every situation. Gratitude blesses and enriches us. It makes us "fit," enables us to feel the Holy Spirit, allows us to experience the gift of God, and motivates us to share our gift with others in word and deed, tenderly enriching all our lives.