How to Complain Constructively
While multiplication is often a positive thing, I sometimes need reminding to not multiply that which is harmful. This kind of negativity is the direct opposite of what God intends for us.
As Dean of the College of Education, I’ve seen how difficult the last two pandemic years have been in general, and specifically for educators and families. Balancing “home” schooling, mask mandates for little ones, and student mental health without an end in sight has created a plethora of opportunities to feel discouraged and seek solace in negativity as a coping mechanism.
Recently, I listened to NPR’s much-beloved Dan Gotlieb describe new research on how to combat “the blues,” or negativity, by focusing on productive joy rather than detrimental negativity. The research-based data got me thinking about my own tendency toward complaining and its eradication of joy in my own life.
While it seems counterintuitive, exploring both the value and hindrances of expressing complaint is a good place to start. For this practice, I can think of no better place to start than the Psalms.
The Psalms as a Guide
For many, the Psalms function as a pathway to healing and connection to our God through prayer and recognition of God’s sustaining love. But the Psalms also show clear expressions of pain, wounds, and tribulations, laid out with pleas to alleviate them. Woven throughout these laments is a steadfast faith that God is a healer and a counselor who likewise shares our burden.
I believe that the healthy sharing of our burdens with God and others can certainly mend our wounds, and eventually lead to thoughtful solutions to problems and an end to harmful practices. Internalizing and ignoring suffering and injustice is dangerous, but we must ask: Are we abusing such practices?
Undue complaining quickly becomes a handy, overused crutch. While it may feel momentarily satisfying, it does little to resolve the suffering and injustice at a deeper level.
As in the Psalms, it appears that localizing our complaints and purposefully sharing them with God and a trusted group of individuals might be the best way to contain that negativity and keep it from multiplying. In the professions of education, counseling, ministering, and psychology (to name a few), we need to be careful about becoming a receptacle of these woes for too many people. Instead, we must reflect our hope that is anchored in Christ. Amplifying hope is our target for multiplication.
As Christians who dwell in Christ’s light, we can reflect that light into the lives of others and ultimately find strength, encouragement, and joy in that process. If complaining remains at our core, it will eat away at our joy. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he urges his followers to combat this tendency by rejoicing and dwelling on things that are good.
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Whatever is true, right, pure, lovely, and admirable—think about such things.” (Philippians 4, paraphrased.)
Here is my encouragement to you:
- Pay attention to the injustices and inequalities around you - they are real!
- Share your thoughts with those you trust.
- Practice moving forward into grace, joy, and reconciliation through Christ.
I pray you will continue to bring the light of Christ into your community, family life, workplace, and friendships. Here’s to multiplying the good and curbing the unhelpful!
About the Author
Susan Edgar-Smith, PhD is Dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences