Is complaining a sin?
After all, it seems so minor and we all do it.
The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness because of complaining which suggests that it is a sin
“Now when the people complained, it displeased the LORD…” Num 11:1
1 Cor 10 lists the reasons the Israelites failed to enter the Promised Land and grumbling and complaining was listed! (1 Cor 10:10)
I don’t want to wander in the wilderness for the rest of my life because I never learned to discipline myself in this area. How about you?
Today I am going to explore the ‘sin’ of complaining in relation to the healing journey. I will share my thoughts on the causes of our complaints and suggest possible solutions.
WHY IS COMPLAINING A SIN?
The world doesn’t see complaining as a sin, or something evil and ugly. But God says in James 5:9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another. InNum 14:27 He says How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? and then in Phil 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing
I could go on! God doesn’t like it, there are plenty more verses which make His will in this area clear. Complaining dishonours Him and stops us from being who God wants us to be.
But when your symptoms are all-encompassing, you’re in a lot of pain, it’s difficult to walk, sit and you’re unable to earn a salary….etc etc
How can you not complain?
I mean, surely it’s normal? we’re not robots.
So if complaining is a sin, why do we still do it and how can we change things?
1. SPIRIT OF ENTITLEMENT / VICTIMHOOD
People that complain a lot probably have an entitlement issue or often play the victim. I write about these together because they are two sides of the same coin.
Individuals who possess a sense of entitlement often hold others to high perfectionistic expectations. They exhibit a self-centred attitude and believe that their rights supersede those of others.
This behaviour stems from what psychologists refer to as the “Parent Ego,” which can lead us to unconsciously believe that we are better than those around us.
Do you remember the childhood game ‘I’m the king of the castle, and you’re the dirty rascal’?
Some people think they are the ‘king’ and have complete control over everything around them, but this is just their ego and flesh talking.
For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy
2 Tim 3:2
It’s the ‘I’m ok but you’re not ok life position’ at work.
I once had a friend who was getting upset about people letting her down. She was angry and annoyed that they would treat her this way.
I didn’t say anything, but I secretly thought ‘I’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve let me down’ When we fall victim to an entitlement mindset or an unhealthy life position, we see the flaws of others.
Naaman believed his prestige and wealth entitled him to see the prophet and not a servant so complained when his expectation wasn’t met.
He thought he was more worthy of healing because of his position in society. He even complained about dipping in the dirty river Jordan.
We will also be more likely to engage with the sin of complaining when we operate from victimhood, the ‘I’m not ok but you are’ life position.
We think we need comfort from others so we pour out our troubles but this just reinforces a victim mentality. When people side with us, it gives us a feeling of unity and acceptance which are soothing experiences.
If this relates to you, see HEALING AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA: WHY SOME DON’T HEAL
I wrote a post last week on humility. The more Christ-conscious we become when our eyes are fixed on Him and His Word, we will neither be superior nor inferior.
When we’re fixed on our own world, our eyes are on the wrong thing and that’s when complaining is likely to strike.
Notice how both inferiority and superiority are to do with our relationships with others. There is an unconscious comparison running the show which is guaranteed to impact us negatively.
Either we judge ourselves better or worse
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.
The Bible tells us that God gives grace to the humble which will empower us on the healing journey.
From a nervous system perspective, focusing on God encourages regulation whereas focusing on the self and others renders us stuck in survival.
Survival invites stress hormones to keep on flowing, regulation invites peace and calm. This is where the healing is.
2. THE GAP BETWEEN REALITY AND EXPECTATION
I remember the days when I thought doctors would be able to cure. At the time, I thought this was a reasonable expectation to have.
After all, most people I know are ‘healed’ in this way.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that our beliefs and expectations may not always align with reality.
I’m guessing you all know what I’m talking about? Chronic illness comes about so unexpectedly and we expect doctors to fix us!
It’s easy to grumble about the unfairness when life isn’t going the way we planned. We think complaining to people about how bad it is, is justified.
We sense that relief and the validation that someone has heard us, and we feel momentarily better. Do you talk about your illness a lot?
The Israelites expected an easy life with a varied diet and the ability to drink continuously. They assumed independence from God and from leadership.
Their reality was very different.
I know I expected to be healed and well by now with my own family. I don’t think this was an unreasonable expectation, but it isn’t my reality.
Believe me, I know I am guilty of complaining.
I am on a journey of learning to be content in the grey. I’m talking about acceptance. This means I see and feel the unfairness, the loss, the heartache and the pain and I’m learning to be ok with it.
I don’t mean to accept that I will be like this forever and that this is as good as life gets, but each day try and embrace and befriend the day before me.
It’s helpful to remember that God has a plan and purpose for me and complaining is not going to change anything. (And it may very well hinder it)
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Gal 5:24
For me, this is the hardest part of the journey.
Children tend to model their parents. If you’re raised in an environment where your parents were never satisfied, grumbling and complaining every day, then it’s not surprising the child will grow up and do the same.
Neuroscientists talk of mirror neurons. We pick up on the behaviour, thinking and atmosphere of those we spend time with the most.
Under these circumstances, children may very well grow up critical, demanding of their rights and unappreciative of blessings.
Of course, it is our responsibility to break free from any childhood thinking or behaviour patterns.
I think self-awareness is really important.
Recognise there is a pattern of thinking that isn’t serving me and explore it. When do I complain? With whom? How frequently do I complain?
I belong to a Facebook group where we were encouraged to do a 21-day complain-fast. This involves wearing an elastic band (like a hair bobble) around the wrist and every time you complain, flick the elastic, then move it to the opposite wrist.
This is based on the scientific truth that it takes 21 days to break a habit.
I haven’t tried this myself. I imagine you probably need someone to hold you accountable. But I can see how it’s almost like a fun way to recognise just how frequently we complain. I think I might try it!
He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.
I think watching our thought life is also useful here.
Philippians 4 asks us to think about pure, holy and admirable things. The more we think of those good things, even though life isn’t what we want, the less likely we are to see the things we don’t like.
Thoughts will precede words.
I’ve made a list of the things I tend to complain about to help me catch them when they arise.
When we think toxic thoughts repeatedly, we’re only reinforcing the very thing we don’t want. (What we focus on grows!) and we reflect this in words when we complain.
As Alan Gordon says in his book The Way Out, we need to learn ‘to take the road less travelled’.
4. OUR NERVOUS SYSTEM IS STUCK IN FIGHT
We all have the fight/flight instinct, it’s God-given and we need it for survival. When we’re dysregulated, we tend to live in survival which can cause physical and emotional illness.
If someone complains a lot, I wonder if they’re stuck in the fight part of fight/flight.
These people are more likely to be defensive, argumentative, angry and therefore wouldn’t think twice about complaining.
Polyvagal theory, the theory of the nervous system, suggests that our story follows our state. So if we’re already in a bad mood, we are more likely to complain.
Do you remember Martha complaining about Mary who was sitting at the feet of Jesus? Her anger and stress caused her to see what she perceived as wrong and unfair.
She even complained to Jesus about Jesus!
Think about kids when they’re hungry. It isn’t long before they start whining about how bad they feel. This is understandable. Their stress hormones have kicked in; their system has interpreted hunger as danger.
I notice it when I’m in a hurry. Usually if I’m in the supermarket it doesn’t bother me if there are long queues, except of course when I’m in a rush. Then I start to get annoyed with everyone around me.
I also know I am more likely to complain when I’ve spent too much time on my own. In polyvagal theory, we would say ‘I fell down my ladder’. We need other safe nervous systems to function properly.
SOLUTION: REGULATING RESOURCES.
Integrate regulating activities throughout the day. These are activities that support your nervous system in becoming more regulated and ventral.
If you’re in the ‘fight’ part of your system, pushing against a wall, squeezing or punching a pillow or wringing a towel may help.
This can be followed by something soothing like sitting in nature, listening to waves of the sea on Youtube or spending time with a pet or loved one.
Once the nervous system is soothed, socially connected and rational, you can deal with whatever is bothering you from a place of empowerment and peace, rather than stress and anger.
The chance of us complaining or engaging in any other sin is greatly reduced.
5. THINKING DISTORTIONS
To aid our survival, we develop thinking patterns early in childhood. One such pattern is when we filter out the good. This can be a trauma response.
The brain becomes hardwired to only notice what is wrong; we just don’t notice anything good. Even if I encourage my clients to think of their happiest memory or something really good that has happened, they actually are unable to do so.
The Israelites forgot God’s goodness. They saw Him part the red sea, rain manna from heaven and turn the bitter waters sweet.
He had even freed them from many years of slavery. You would think they would be on their knees with gratitude.
Joseph Prince once said “It took one night to free the Israelites from the Egyptians but it took 40 years to deliver to get Egypt out of the Israelites.”
It is possible to retrain the brain to notice the good, even if it is just a short glimmer like noticing a pretty butterfly or the sound of birds.
Keeping a gratitude diary to record the daily glimmers, encouraging words people have spoken as well as all the things or people in your life that make it better.
This rewires our brains to start noticing good things which up until now we’ve been filtering out.
When you catch yourself complaining, switch to something ‘pure, admirable and praiseworthy’ as in Phil 4.
6 DEMAND MENTALITY
The ‘demand mentality’ that Joseph Prince talks about in his sermons, causes us to complain. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were ‘I must, I must, I must…’ They had to perform for blessings.
It’s a very stressful mindset.
Many of us, even though we’re now under grace, still have the legalistic thinking distortion. Our eyes are on the demands of the day; all the things we need to do or be.
“I must take the kids to school…I must do the dishes….I must go to the supermarket…I must iron the clothes…
When our eyes are fixed on the demands of the day, we get stressed and more likely to complain.
This causes us to stay in fight/flight. There is no healing here. Most people I know would say they’re always busy, multi-tasking etc.
But doing everything quickly and feeling a victim to the demands of the day, is likely to result in the release of those stress hormones.
SOLUTION: SUPPLY MENTALITY
Joseph Prince teaches on the ‘SUPPLY MENTALITY’. Whatever we need to do each day, God has given us grace for it. Can we train our brains to be supply oriented? This means seeing the grace and not the demand.
“For if by the one man’s offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” Rom 5:17
‘God’s grace allows me the strength to take the kids to school, to do the housework and go to the supermarket.’
When we see and believe that we have all that we need, there is peace and calm. We are more likely to operate from the place of rest which in nervous system speak is the ventral and social connection state and we are less likely to complain.
Joshua and Caleb saw the same giants in Canaan but they had a supply mentality. They saw how God was supplying them with the grace to overcome.
The other 10 spies were fixed on the problem and didn’t believe they had what they needed. They had a ‘demand mentality.’
7. THE EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL
People that complain think that the answer lies outside of themselves. This goes back to what I said earlier about the victim mindset.
They want comfort from others and complaining gets them this. Or, they think someone else will solve their problems for them. They want to be rescued.
The Israelites thought complaining was the way to get God to deliver them from the wilderness. Because they were under the law, God’s deliverance was dependent upon their behaviour and performance.
SOLUTION: ACTIVE FAITH
You and I are under grace so we are still blessed despite our sins and whilst deliverance is from God, we need to remember that ‘IT IS FINISHED’.
God has done what He needs to do to provide for our healing. Now we need to actively pursue God’s healing, it doesn’t just happen automatically. This is appropriating God’s healing.
Believing, speaking, persevering, stepping out….
A while ago I spoke of the different types of faith. See 5 EASY WAYS TO BUILD STRONGER FAITH FOR HEALING
For our healing, I believe we need active faith. We don’t wait around for someone to lay hands on us. This is an external locus of control.
Think of the woman with the issue of blood. She had active faith. She wasn’t waiting for some external force.
Would you say you are taking ownership of your own healing journey?
Ultimately reminding yourselves of God’s goodness and His love every day is the anti-dote to complaining and any other sin but I hope the above few pointers may give food for thought.
Which of the above areas resonates with you?
We are not subject to the Wilderness as punishment for the sin of complaining (in my opinion). We are under grace. However, complaining dilutes our faith and causes us to stay dysregulated in our nervous systems making healing difficult to receive.
Philippians 2:14 says “Do all things without complaining and disputing”
So what do we do on our bad days? We want to be authentic!
David was ‘a man after God’s own heart’ yet he did his fair share of ‘complaining’ which puzzles me. But notice he complained to God. “I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble.” Ps 142:2
I would say it’s ok to complain to God. Think of Jonah in the whale. Of course he is going to complain; God wants authenticity.
I think this means that the key is to not stay in the zone of complaining….then it’s sin. Unlike the Israelites, both David and Jonah switched over to faith.
“God I’m so weary and tired, I feel I can’t go on….but I thank and praise you that my healing is around the corner…”
But is a powerful word. It subconsciously cancels out the clause before it so our brains register the faith part of the statement.
We’re not denying reality either, but instead, we’re elevating Truth. The solution drowns out the problem. Now I can’t claim I get this right all the time, but I’m on that journey.
Another suggestion is to journal your complaints. In other words, pour out your unfiltered complaint on paper so everything in your unconscious mind is now at a distance.
‘Better out than in’ so to speak.
Authenticity is important; you’re honouring a part of yourself…otherwise, you could repress your emotion and reality.
Do you think complaining is a sin and how do you deal with it? Maybe you think it isn’t a sin but just a normal and healthy part of life.
I hope this helps you today
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