A few of my clergy colleagues have just completed the “Live Complaint Free” challenge. The brainchild of Rev. Will Bowen of Kansas City, the campaign utilizes a bracelet to remind the wearer not to complain or criticize for 21 straight days. If one breaks the pledge, he or she has to switch the bracelet to the other hand and start the count from scratch.
One of my colleagues had to change her bracelet seven times in one day. I can’t say that I blame her, as she was negotiating brutal traffic along Interstate 35, which seems to have been under construction since concrete was invented.
The Bible instructs us to “do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Philippians 2:14 NET), but is this realistic? Is it even helpful? Most of us believe that complaining provides a necessary “release valve” when we’re irritated or upset. Popular wisdom tells us to vent so we don’t kick the dog when we get home.
Actually, it’s the opposite. The “Savvy Psychologist,” Ellen Hendriksen, notes that numerous studies show that constant griping actually feeds anger by rehearsing the same irksome situation over and over. The biblical word for complaining means murmuring or muttering, the discontented whisperings of a mob ready for revolt. It is the word used when the children of Israel grumbled behind Moses’ back.
I’d venture to say that most of our complaints don’t do anything, except maybe to annoy other people. We grouse about our government, our job, our church, our family members — and nothing changes. We just sink deeper into a well of our own poison. If we must complain, Hendricksen suggests we do so with an eye toward solving a problem — not just spewing bitterness.
Most importantly, believers should refrain from complaining so that we can “shine like stars in the sky” (Phil 2:15), providing a bright witness in a world gone dim with griping and groaning. It’s a tall order, for sure, as most of us nurture our pet peeves and love talking about them (or, in this social media age of ours), posting them for all to see.
But if a bracelet can remind us not to gripe, all the better. Besides, It’s more comfortable than a gag around the mouth.