Do all things without complaining or disputing that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. —Philippians 2:14-15 (NKJV)

The other night, we had friends over for dinner, and I am ashamed to admit that most of the words that came out of my mouth that evening were words of complaint. Oh, they were cloaked in cleverness, and I made my friends laugh in sympathy over my supposed plight. But after they left, I had a bad taste in my mouth, the taste of grumbling.

I was disgusted with myself. You see, I have been trying to stop complaining. Sad to say I haven’t had much success with it. Turns out I complain a lot more than I thought I did. But this evening with my friends was the worst complaint-fest I’d had in months.

Ordinarily this would have led to a rousing bout of beating myself with ugly words, a game I’ve played for decades. But I have given that game to God. He made it clear that He doesn’t like it when I call myself ugly names any more than He likes it when I call others ugly names. It’s all the same to Him. So, no self-flagellation in the aftermath of this bacchanalia of bellyaching. What’s a girl to do? Well, if you’re a girl like me, you’ll think about what went wrong and why it went wrong and how you could handle it differently next time. And you’ll pray for the grace to make a different choice.

So: what went wrong? My tongue started flapping, and I followed it, rather than biting it and forcing it to change course.

Why did that go wrong? There are so many reasons I was complaining, habit being chief among them—I’m an old dog and this whole not-complaining thing is a new trick—but I see two huge reasons my tongue wagged in almost uninterrupted complaint.


First, I was tired. Exhausted, actually. I am not my best self when I’m tired. I keep learning this lesson, that my spiritual and emotional health are deeply dependent on my taking care of myself, getting adequate rest, taking time to be silent and alone, and not getting overextended or overwhelmed. This month has been total extraversion and overextension. That night, I was depleted.

Second, I feel self-conscious when I don’t complain. I think there are three reasons for this.

One, complaining is socially accepted. More, it’s socially expected. No one wants to hear about how awesome your life is. As soon as you start in that direction, you’ll be labeled a braggart. Instead we brag about how hard our lives are, about how many times the baby (or the cat) woke us up last night, about how tired we are, about how the kids are mouthy or the boss is being a jerk. These things bond us to one another, remind us we’re all in this together, and no matter how good things are, they ain’t perfect.

Two, choosing not to complain is radically countercultural. When everyone’s gathered around the water cooler—or the dinner table—to kvetch, it feels awkward to not join in. To avoid temptation I may have to excuse myself from these little kvetch-fests. I may lose some relationships because they’re built on a foundation of complaining that I no longer participate in. I may end up lonely.

Three, I feel uncomfortable with abundance. I’m hyper-aware that not everyone has the abundance I have. I complain to draw your attention away from the abundance of my life and toward its lack. Lack is comfortable; it keeps the discomfort of abundance at bay. Lack says, hey, I’m just like you. Lack is a shield I place around myself so that you won’t envy or think ill of me. Lack is socially acceptable. Abundance is not. So I complain, to show I lack.

Next time around, I can acknowledge these self-conscious fears beforehand—or even in the moment—and give them to God. I can remind myself of the truth and take it to heart to combat my fears:

Understand that solidarity becomes destructive when it’s rooted in something unhealthy or even wrong. Complaining falls squarely in this camp. You cannot—indeed, you do not want to—build relationships upon a foundation of grousing.

Be willing to be lonely. Yes, loneliness is uncomfortable. Depending on how deep or prolonged it is, it may even be painful. But it is also fruitful, for in loneliness you cling more closely to God.

Receive and rejoice in abundance. The habit of complaining to show lack is disingenuous—because your life is really, really good. It always has been. Yes, you’ve had grief along the road, and no, it’s not perfect. But it’s good. And to whine about it is a kind of lie. It’s a blind, and it blinds you to abundance.

I can be diligent about caring for myself. Since I am spiritually stronger and just generally a kinder, more humane person when I am not frazzled and fried, I can prioritize rest and rejuvenation and ensure that I’m getting my recommended daily allowance of sleep and silence.

I can pray for God’s grace to live a life of grateful praise. After all, He wants to heal and transform me. And He’s the One who has the power to.

And should I do all this and still indulge in another rousing round of grousing, I can confess and repent of it, just as I did of my recent orgy of complaining during that dinner with my friends. And then I can start afresh.

This reality is a big reason I think Paul tells us not to complain—because we have no cause to: every moment we can begin again. God lavishes His lovingkindness and forgiveness upon us with more abundance than we can ask for or even imagine. Whatever the past, if we repent, He forgives it. Whatever the future, He holds it. Whatever the present He is with us, empowering us to live forgiven and free. That is the reality we live in, so let us do all things without complaining that we might shine like lights in the world.

K. C. Ireton / Posts / Blog
K.C. Ireton is the author of two books and the mother of four children. An avid reader, she believes that a day without books is a day without meaning or joy. She also likes food, especially when her husband prepares it. Vive le weekend!
  • Karen

    Wow…how did you know my circumstances right now. I have been in a situation of care giving for demanding parents for 13 years of my 14 years of retirement. Though they have not lived with me through most of this time they have required many hours of my time each week…due to family history I have been angry and complained a lot over the years. Like you being tired makes it all worse! I’m tired of hearing me complain! Thank you for your words about not beating myself up and the reminder to spend more time in silence and with my wonderful awesome Heavenly Father in whom there is no condemnation to those who believe!

    August 10th, 2016 9:36
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

      Dear Karen, Exhaustion makes it *so hard*, maybe even impossible, to be our best selves. Caregiving is exhausting work, and yet we too often expect ourselves to be able to do it–and do it with grace and love!–when we’re running on empty. Add in a tendency to beat ourselves up for not being perfect (or kind or whatever), and we’re in a downward spiral that only deepens our exhaustion. I pray you will be kind to yourself in this long season, and that as you spend time with Jesus, you will be filled to the measure with His love and kindness for you.

      August 11th, 2016 17:07
  • Jerusha Agen

    What a terrific post, Kimberlee! You chose one of my favorite verses in the Bible–so stunningly beautiful to think we can shine like stars in the heavens as we hold out the Word of life (NIV)! But, I seem to easily forget the first part of that verse, that this is accomplished through doing everything without complaining. Your thought-provoking post is a challenge to me to examine my behavior and see how much complaining I’m still doing. Great insight about complaining being culturally acceptable and even expected and wanted sometimes. I also really needed the reminder about the importance of prioritizing sleep in the battle against sin. I’ve definitely noticed fatigue as a big factor with other recurring sin in my life. I love your closing passage. God forgives us and holds our future, no matter what. Amen!

    August 10th, 2016 11:07
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

      Thank you, Jerusha! I’ve become increasingly aware that physical and spiritual health are intertwined. Taking care of our bodies (food, sleep , exercise) is a form of spiritual discipline. In fact, James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God includes getting more sleep as one of his foundational spiritual practices! We simply can’t function at full capacity (mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical) when we’re overly tired. Let’s all get more sleep! 🙂

      August 11th, 2016 17:15
  • C Allyn

    I am gripped by your words. My struggle, my life, my prayer. I beat myself up a lot. It’s good to read another’s thoughts. Not to commiserate but to see that this is something hopeful to work through, with God’s grace.

    August 10th, 2016 11:15
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

      I hear you, C Allyn. That whole self-flagellation thing is a doozy. For a long, long time, I thought it was the way I was supposed to humble myself, but two years ago, God blew that lie out of the water, and I suddenly saw that it was the self-flagellation that was getting in the way of my relationship with Him. Old habits die hard, and this one has died harder than many others, but after much prayer and many failures, I am learning how to make mistakes without compounding them by beating myself up.

      Have you read St. Francis de Sales? He was a 17th century bishop, and I think he probably knew from experience how awful self-recrimination was–his writings are full of admonitions to be gentle with ourselves when we fail, to not stay stuck in the failure but to receive God’s forgiveness and move forward in freedom.

      August 11th, 2016 17:23
  • Carissa

    This post prompted me to mentally run though the conversations I’ve had this week, and I am challenged to direct them in a different direction.

    August 10th, 2016 11:37
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

      Thank you, Carissa. Reading your comment is prompting me to do the same thing!

      August 11th, 2016 17:24
  • Emily Conrad
    Emily Conrad

    A lovely post, and so true! I’ve gone the route of complaint, too, and looked back with embarrassment. Thank you for the reminder that we can continually begin anew with God and that life is good. It’s always been good 🙂

    August 10th, 2016 12:00
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

      Thank you, Emily. I have to continually remind myself that I can continually begin anew. Frank Laubach says it so well: “One can begin all over instantly at any moment.”

      August 11th, 2016 17:27
  • Theresa

    Great post and reminder not to complain. Your three reasons for why we complain were spot on. Funny how we often want to downplay our good fortune, as if others don’t already notice. When talking to a friend with cancer I find myself not talking about myself and what me or the family is doing because I don’t want her to think I am bragging or living more than her? But does that really help her?

    August 10th, 2016 21:37
    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

      I think there’s a good impulse behind our desire to not draw attention to our abundance, and often it’s appropriate. Your instinct not to talk about your family’s adventures with your friend who’s ill may be spot-on. After all, you’re choosing to remain silent about your family’s activities out of care and concern for her. On the night I wrote about, I was not speaking out of love for my friends. I wasn’t even thinking about them. I was thinking about myself. But that’s not what you’re doing. Your decision sounds like it’s born of empathy.

      Of course, it’s quite possible that talking about your family would be okay, too. So much of these decisions depends on the unique context of a given relationship. It also depends on our intentions. Do we speak (or refrain from speaking) with the intention to build the other person up, to build the relationship up, to express empathy and love? If the answer to that question is yes, I think we’re pretty safe to proceed.

      August 11th, 2016 18:10

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