On giving up complaining…

For the past few years I have tried to give up something for Lent.

Five years ago, four years ago, and three years ago I tried to give up swearing.  Honestly, it just never took.  I would drop a four-letter word and never think twice about it.

Last year I decided to go for something different.  Rather than give up something like sugar or chocolate, I decided to give up saying critical things about other people.  If you want to know whether you are critical of others, I recommend trying to give up saying negative things about people.

From that I experience I learned two key things.  First, I learned that if you give something up it is exceptionally healthy if you have something to replace that thing.  Second, I learned that when you are trying to give something up, you become incredibly aware of that thing.

This year for Lent, I decided to give up complaining.  I spend about three hours a day driving to and from work, so my first thought was to give up road rage (oh yes, I have road rage).  However, on the first day of Lent one of my friends sent me an article on complaining.  The article stated that complaining is – despite common thought – totally unnecessary.  You may be asking yourself, “Don’t you need to vent or get something off your chest?”  It turns out that the happiest people complain the least.  Further, research has found that individuals that complain are usually upset longer than people that internally process.

When I was younger I remember being told that the point of Lent was to suffer.  Christ was tempted by the devil for forty days and forty nights.  I was told that we give up something for Lent so we can understand that suffering.  The thing is, if you are a human you know what suffering is because we are alive.  We have all experienced loss, pain and suffering.

Twenty some years later, for me, the point of Lent is to remove something from your life, and replace that thing with Christ.

I had no idea how much I complained.  I made it one entire day without complaining.  Then, on day two I started complaining by 10:00am.  By noon I started feeling heartburn because I felt the complaints boiling up inside my chest.  When 2pm rolled around I started noticing my co-workers complaining about other people, and felt jealous that I could not join in.  By the drive home, I was concerned I would not make it to day three.  Thankfully, by 7pm I remembered the point of Lent.  Rather than start complaining, I took quiet time to pray to God.  I told God all of my complaints for the day and asked for peace in my heart.

Since Wednesday, I have complained one time.  What have I learned so far?

I have learned that there is a big difference between describing and complaining.  I have a bad neck from an old car accident.  My neck hurts quite frequently.  I have to tell my husband if I am in pain so he can help me.  Describing my pain is way different than complaining about it.  On Friday I told my husband that my neck was hurting and I needed him to help me by carrying something heavy.  That was descriptive.  Complaining would have been if I said, “I am so annoyed that my stupid neck hurts.  I am so sick of this crap.  Blahblahblah.”  The difference between describing and complaining is where you place the power.  Describing is stating how something is or was.  Complaining is putting the power of the situation onto someone or something else.  It complete removes your power as an individual from the situation.  I had no idea that I had been giving my power away.  When I complain, I remove my responsibility on an incident and place it on something else.

The best thing I have discovered so far is that because I cannot complain, I have to address problems immediately.  For example, today I was frustrated that my husband did not wipe off the counter.  Typically, I would have held on to that and told him sometime in the future that I would like him to work on that habit.  Instead, I told him right away that I was feeling frustrated.  He told me he was happy that I was upfront with him and told him right away.  I was shocked.  I thought I would be a nagging wife if I complained about something as unimportant as wiping the counter.  Now, I am wondering if I have been complaining for years about things I could have addressed right away?

I am only four days in.  I cannot say that everything has been easy.  It has felt challenging not to complain.  However, I know I can do it.  If I fail every now and then that is ok.  I am trying my best.  Most importantly, for the next thirty six days I have the opportunity to turn to Christ to help strengthen me.  I am excited for the adventure.