The Fine Line Between Authenticity and Negativity
I almost always find that the simplest things turn out to be the most radical. In Philippians 2, Paul makes the claim that to shine as lights in the world, we have to eliminate one thing: grumbling and disputing. This one is convicting, because it’s so easy to complain and grumble without even noticing. In fact, it’s especially easy to do this and call it “processing” or “venting” to our Jesus-loving friends. When we eliminate grumbling and disputing, we stand out as “blameless, innocent, children of God in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” This could shift the way people view us as Christians.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” - Philippians 2:12-30
WE LOVE TO COMPLAIN AND GRUMBLE
It’s interesting because sometimes the people that talk about God the most are some of the most grumbling and complain-y people I know. We love to complain and grumble. I think it is addictive. It’s so easy to do. I even notice it in my house.
I remember when my kids were little we used to have bootcamp. If you complained, grumbled, or talked back, you end up in your room for an hour. We do it the beginning of every summer. They would all come home and complain about being bored, hungry, cranky, and they didn’t like each other and they fought over everything. But after about two days, they stopped. It was worth it. Bootcamp was always worth it because they liked each other and they quit complaining and grumbling.
You realize that this is something that can get completely out of hand, but it can also be completely resolved. If you discipline yourself and train your mind and words to only think about and say what is life-giving, brings encouragement and hope, then this gets resolved. We can focus on the good instead of everything that’s wrong.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AUTHENTICITY AND COMPLAINING?
In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
There is a fine line between being real and complaining. That’s why we need people to notice it in us and call us out when we complain about everything that’s wrong with our lives. Paul gives us the answer.
The way that we shine as lights in the world is to hold fast to the word of life. There is a purpose in our lives and we are detracting from it when we are full of complaining and grumbling. Paul knows that some who believes in Heaven, believes the Word of God, and believes this is all temporary can do uncomfortable things for a season. You can do something uncomfortable for a season without telling everybody about it.
My friend Sarah is still recovering from a stroke that was five years ago. If she could talk, she would tell you that complaining and grumbling would have destroyed her life. She knew she had a choice that to either focus on everything that’s hard, which would destroy her OR she could focus on all the good and all that God has given back to her. I have watched someone who lost nearly everything not complain and not grumble. It’s possible.
WE NEED EACH OTHER
Joy and gratitude are contagious, but so is disunity and complaining and grumbling. So, how do we practically live this out? The goal here is not to rebuke everyone around us when they start gossiping, complaining, or grumbling. That is something we do out of immaturity. Rather than trying to control everybody else’s complaining and grumbling, work on your own.
Trust that it will be contagious if you give life-giving words.
The other thing you can do is shift conversations. When a conversation is going down a track of grumbling or complaining, you can shift it onto something positive. We do this with our kids all the time, so let’s do it with each other. It works.
If you feel stuck in grumbling and complaining, I would just keep a gratitude journal. I would write down everyday one thing or ten things you’re thankful for. Start to notice how much is right, how much is good, how much God has blessed you with. It’s hard to complain when you see what God has given you everyday.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU’VE GONE FROM BEING VULNERABLE AND REAL TO COMPLAINING AND GRUMBLING?
This is really, really important. I memorized a scripture with my kids that we constantly repeat. Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building each other up, according to our needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” So we would ask these questions: is it wholesome? Is it helpful in building others up? Is it actually meeting their needs? Is it benefitting other people listening? I think if we would approach our words a little bit more like this is we would find a grid that helps us know whether this is vulnerability or this is complaining.
Science proves that when we give words to our thoughts that are negative, it reinforces them. Giving words to something gives power to it. I’ve watched my daughter do this with her struggle with dyslexia. Instead of her saying, “Mom, I feel stupid. I feel dumb. I’m not smart enough” she can say, “Mom, I have been struggling with negative thoughts about myself.” That way she is working through a negative thought pattern, but she’s also opening herself up to what’s true and good.
We must build conversations that open ourselves up to what’s true and good, rather than giving into the complaining craving. Complaining feels very good in the short term. Complaining doesn’t allow in truth. Being vulnerable and real starts from the heart that desires change - a heart that desires not to be in bondage to a negative thought pattern anymore.
The next situation that comes up is conflict with a friend, and venting to other friends about it. I am so big on going to the person first. If that person does not give you permission to have other people pray or bring people into it, it’s just not our business. We need to do a better job of protecting our friends. We do not always need to share our conflicts our frustrations with everyone.
This is such a simple thing, but it can completely ruin relationships. It can taint the outside world’s view of Christians and the Church. Or we can be known for building up, encouraging, and loving others well. We can be those that choose joy, gratitude, and kindness over complaining and grumbling.