Is It Bad to Complain?

Complaining is bad when it’s done for the sake of complaining and becomes habitual. Complaining is not bad when it’s a sincere cry out to God.

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Complaining can be annoying, to ourselves, and especially to others who must listen to our complaints. It can weigh us down and create an aura of negativity around us. Nobody wants to be around a complainer, and sometimes complainers don’t much like being around themselves either.

The tough part is that complaining can become habitual and even harmful. In a Jan. 16, 2018 article that appeared on Mission.org and was written by Dr. Travis Bradberry, complaining is tempting because it feels good at the time just like other detrimental habits. But when we repeat a behavior, the neurons in our brain branch out to each other in order to ease the flow of information. Eventually, that can create a permanent bridge that makes way for habitual complaining.

“Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you,” wrote Dr. Bradberry.

And so repeated complaining not only creates a negative aura around us, but also has a negative impact on our personality.

But, is complaining always bad? The answer is yes, and no. Complaining is bad when it’s done for the sake of complaining and becomes habitual. Complaining is not bad when it’s a sincere cry out to God.

Consider Job. He was a just man who loved God and followed his commandments. He didn’t merit the travesties that befell him and his family – he was completely innocent and yet he endured incredible suffering. Job had a right to complain! However, take note on the way in which Job complained. He didn’t rant for the sake of ranting but rather he took his complaints to God asking for relief in his distress, understanding in his anguish, and strength in his weakness. That’s very different from griping about things just because griping makes you feel better about your situation. Job was crying out to God for clarity and help.

What’s more, when he complained he did so reverently in the sense that he never belittled God or negated his power, justice and mercy. He did not accuse, curse or insult God nor did he make threats against him. Instead of turning away from God – which is what a lot of people do in distress – he turned toward God. Whenever he complained, he acknowledged God as the All-Powerful, All-Knowing and All-Merciful Father that he is. Job demonstrated the difference between complaining and fighting against God’s will and crying out to God in order to understand and fulfill his will. One could say that Job's complaining was a "holy complaining."

Complaining is a human response to suffering and there's a way to purify our complaints by looking to the Psalms as a guideline. Many of the 150 Psalms deal with distress, anguish, and suffering because the Israelites certainly had their share of those on their journey to the Promised Land and beyond. The most beautiful thing about the Psalms, though, is that they're both poetry and prayer. They are prayers not about God, but rather to God and in them we can find reflections of ourselves in our own times of distress, anguish and suffering. These Psalms are referred to as the "Psalms of Lament and Complaint," and you can find them with an online search or using a good Bible concordance. When we meditate and pray with them, we can put ourselves into the place of the psalmist and raise our complaints to God in a holy and respectful way.

There are too many Psalms of lament and complaint, but three of my favorites are Psalms 77, Psalm 88 and Psalm 102. Psalms 77 begins with “I cry aloud to God,” and reveals the pain in the heart of the psalmist but slowly as the song progresses it turns toward a remembrance of all the wonderful things God has done. Don't we all find ourselves in that same predicament from time to time? We find ourselves steeped in sorrow and rightfully need to cry out to God but then we need to be reminded of the amazing things that he is capable of and does on a regular basis. Psalm 88 is similar but ends rather bluntly with the line, "Because of you companions shun me; my only friend is darkness." When I pray this psalm, I find myself empathizing with the psalmist – sometimes I'm just stuck in darkness without being able to figure out where God's providence is in my life. Finally, Psalm 102 is most meaningful in times of distress because of the imagery it uses in regard to the plight of the psalmist and the absolute power and glory of God. I especially like the final verse which is a reference to all that we look forward to which is a life in Eternity: "May the children of your servants live on; may their descendants live in your presence."

Physiologically, psychologically and even spiritually, complaining can be a bad thing because it turns us downward and inward on ourselves rather than outward and upward toward God. But when our complaints become like the Psalms of Lament and Complaint wherein they’re cries out to our all-powerful and all-loving Father, they become something good, true and beautiful. And that’s when complaining becomes holy.