Face it, we all love to complain. As a psychotherapist I can tell you that complaining is more American than the Super Bowl, rock and roll or the donut hole. And what do we like to complain about the most? Other people – how much they’ve hurt us, how they don’t understand us, how they thwart our best intentions to be good people, and so on. Is there room in our worship experience for this most basic human activity?
Apparently, King David thought so. Here are a few examples from the Psalms:
Psalm 55:2 Attend to me, and answer me. I am restless in my complaint and moan
Psalm 55:17 Evening and morning, and at noon, will I complain and moan; and he has heard my voice.
Psalm 64:1 Hear my voice, God, in my complaint. Preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Psalm 142:2 I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my troubles.
Last month I wrote about gratitude being a powerful way to acknowledge God’s beauty in even the most mundane of circumstances. The spiritual discipline of giving thanks can certainly transform our lives. But often we are so worried about our problems or so busy trying to solve them, that we can’t break free of that serpentine fog of anxiety winding its way around us, choking out our words of appreciation. In times like that, what can we do?
We can complain.
Now as I see it, there are three types of complaining, two of which are useless. The first non-constructive form of complaining is the one we like the best. That’s complaining to others about our misfortunes, failures and catastrophes. At best, we feel unburdened; at worst it increases our anger or depression. The second type of complaining is involuntary, and we would probably stop it if we could. That’s the mental, inner complaining, the ruminating, the constant mental gnawing on the injustice of it all. There’s nothing good about this practice that robs us of peace, sleep and sometimes health.
But the third way of complaining can lead to relief. Psalm 142:2 holds the secret: “I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my troubles.” It’s the One we pour our hearts out to that makes the difference. I’ve been reading the psalms of David lately, and I’ve been amazed at how much complaining goes on – and this from the one described as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). God doesn’t seem to mind our complaints. Instead, he actually invites them. We’re advised to “…pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8)
There are many reasons why taking our complaints to the Lord is a good idea. First, it’s a sign of intimacy. We generally don’t bare our hearts to people we don’t know. Second, it shows trust. If my granddaughters have a problem, they go straight to mom – even if she is the problem! Third, complaining to God tends to remind us of how he has helped us in the past. This is one of the reasons why many of the psalms start in desperation and end in assurance. We tend to forget past deliverances when we’re upset, but turning it over to God refocuses our thinking. We start to wonder, could it be that God actually cares about this? Sometimes when this shift happens we discover that his provision is already in place.
Here’s how this worked for me last week when we ran out of water for a day and a half. Problem enough with eight people in the house, and two of them throwing up, but when our pump broke, requiring a service call with an $800 purchase, I was starting to get my complaint on. No sooner did whiny prayers commence that I started to laugh because I realized that the night before this fiasco, my husband had inexplicably brought home a case of water – just what we needed before we knew we needed it!
You might ask, how does that show God’s provision? You still had the inconvenience; you still had the bill. True, but I didn’t have to go out at 6 am and buy water. It was a mercy, a kiss, a love note in my lunch box on a particularly rough day.
We’ve all heard the question (and probably asked it ourselves) “If God is so good, why did he allow this or that tragedy?” That’s not a bad question, but we tend to ask it of ourselves or others rather than God. Put the question to him. Practice unvarnished honesty in your complaint and see what happens. You may, like Job, end up coming face to face with the Almighty.