When someone asks you how you’ve been, how often do you list through all the things that are going wrong, the things that are bothering you, one complaint after another? It is easy to find things to complain about, and it can feel good to vent our frustrations to someone. But at what point does venting become complaining? And how can we change our attitude so that we feel the need to complain less?
Father Matthew Spencer, OSJ recently shared a story on St. Joseph’s Workshop about a religious sister that he worked with. One thing that struck him about her was that she never complained about anything, even when things weren’t going her way. This led him to reflect on how we can can imitate this sister, and complain less in our own lives.
Father Matthew first addressed the difference between venting and complaining, saying, “First of all, there is something cathartic about venting. There’s something that makes us feel good, even if it doesn’t solve the problem. Sometimes it will help us resolve our emotions to just talk about a situation. That’s why counseling is helpful, that’s why we just need someone to listen to us. We can process it and then we can let go of our frustration when somebody has hurt us. That’s what I would say is venting. It’s rather neutral – when it doesn’t turn into gossip, when it doesn’t turn into unfair criticism of people.”
“Complaining is different,” he explained. “Complaining is when I choose to put the blame outside of myself, or when I’m deciding that somebody else is responsible for this. Venting is just for this release, whereas complaining keeps me in my stagnant swamp of feelings and emotions. I’m just not working to get out of it.”
“We vent and we get frustrated and we share it,” Father Matthew continued. “But rarely does that fix the problem. Oftentimes we have to arrive at the point where we realize there is nothing more to say about this. At least nothing more productive to say about this. I could keep complaining, I could keep talking about this, and keep wallowing in my misery, and stay stuck in this swamp of my feelings. But instead, why don’t I allow God to be God? Why don’t I recognize that I don’t have all the answers, that God doesn’t owe me all the answers, and, in fact, it’s not even in my power to find all of the answers. So I can let God be in control.”
Father Matthew explained that, just like the religious sister he so admired, if we want to complain less we need to learn how to turn over our troubles to the Lord. “It’s amazing what happens when we do that,” he said. “When we allow God to be in control of our lives. It’s a type of surrender. We turn ourselves over to Him. We allow Him to guide our life. We allow Him to answer the big questions that face us – the ones we would like answered.”
“Something happens inside of us where we can find happiness again. And it doesn’t depend on the actions of others, it doesn’t depend on circumstances becoming perfect in our life. It just means that we are now creatures, and God is the creator. It just means that you and I are trusting and following the Lord.”
But resolving to complain less does not mean that we should not care, or turn a blind eye to the injustices or the bad situations around us. “I’m not saying that we should just be quiet about problems in the world,” Father Matthew clarified. “I’m not saying that we should just never address them. That’s not at all what I’m saying. Because there are times when we need to address situations, to correct individuals when we are in a place to do so, charitably.”
“But we have to live our lives without being complainers. To me, it was a powerful witness of this sister, who found holiness in turning things over to God continually. I don’t think it’s because nothing bothered her. I don’t think it’s because she was fine with everything that happened in her life. I think it’s because she chose to allow God to be in charge of her life. Maybe you and I can do the same thing.”
Listen to the full reflection below: