A couple of years ago, my husband said to me, ‘You complain a lot’. You may think that was insulting. It wasn’t. It was revelatory. Frankly, it was life-changing. I am grateful to him for telling me that, even though it wasn’t my favourite thing he’s ever said to me.
I didn’t realise I complained a lot. I have a deep inner drive to be honest and reflective, never trite or flippant. So if someone asks me how I am, it’s hard for me to say the socially acceptable thing: ‘Fine. How are you?’ I might exult about what a great day I’m having, or how I appreciated the purpleness of the pansies I just passed. I’m also prone to reveal that I just stubbed my toe, or that I’ve had a cough for a few days. Not the answer people expect.
But I can’t really blame the virtue of honesty for the malady of grumpiness. It may be connected to my desire to be truthful, but let’s face it: the truthful mouth utters what lies in the heart. My tendency to complain was coming from a heart that was apt to be dissatisfied. An often selfish heart. I complained because things weren’t the way I wanted them to be.
I’ve come a long way in overcoming this, but only because it was brought to my attention.
It’s almost comical how surprised I was at my husband’s observation. I’d been a Christian for decades and yet I was unaware of this sin in my life. Not mistake, not shortcoming, not potential area of growth—sin. A cranky heart and a complaining mouth are dishonouring to God, and I’m not going to make excuses for it. I’m glad my husband called me out on it, and I’m glad I asked the Holy Spirit to help me rid this sin from my life.
I’m convinced that God is displeased with how often we Christians let each other off the hook. Don’t misunderstand me: we must be gracious in our speech to each other and we must be loving and forgiving. But we also need to hold each other accountable. It is far more loving to say, ‘You seem to voice a lot of dissatisfaction—can we pray about it together? Is there anything you need to work through, and can I help?’, than it is to say, ‘Girl, you go ahead. Nothing wrong with letting off a little steam’. Both expressions are meant to be supportive, but the first expression exhibits real love—the kind of love that is ready to go deep and get messy. It is the kind of love that expects the best from the other person. The kind of love that says, ‘I believe you can be better than this’. If my husband didn’t believe I could do better than sit around and complain all the time, then I guess he wouldn’t have a very high opinion of me. His gentle admonishment showed that he believed in me. He put me on the hook, and I’m glad he did.
According to my observation, Christians let each other off the hook through the vehicle of social media. Don’t get me wrong: social media does play a worthy role within the church. It gives us many opportunities to encourage each other and it keeps us in one another’s lives. These are wins. But I find that we often use it to support and applaud our friends for bad behaviour. We also affirm the conduct of individuals when we’ve only heard one side of the story. A couple of weeks ago, someone I know was on Facebook, comforting a person who had done something outrageously wrong, but had painted himself as the victim. The well-meaning person told the ‘victim’ how justified he was and how wrong others had been in correcting his behaviour.
A little more Spirit-guided discernment should have come into play here. It is rarely wise to offer spiritual counsel or consolation based on the one-sided explanation of a situation that obviously has another side.
But we feel so good about ourselves when we can offer affirming words. We like offering them, and the recipient likes hearing them. Really, though, do good feelings equal love? Real love has the other person’s best interest in mind. And that means saying the hard things when they need to be said. Calling a sin a sin, rather than using some gentle euphemism. Not turning a blind eye when a fellow believer is walking outside God’s will.
I recently read that members of Generation Z may want to live good and virtuous lives, but if they see others around them doing immoral things, they figure it’s not their business—even if the offenders are friends of theirs. They stay in their own lane, I guess. Confronting others with their spiritual missteps, though, is difficult for anyone at any age. Still, we are commanded to do it. The Word says, ‘Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives’ (Colossians 3:16, NLT). It is our duty.
Of course, all this assumes you aren’t pulling specks out of someone’s eye when there’s a log in your own. The task is for those who are in step with Christ to ‘teach and counsel’ those who are in need of correction or guidance.
A friend of mine once said to me, ‘I respect and love you and give you permission to call me out on my stuff’. That’s the space I want to live in. I want godly, real friends who can lovingly tell me what’s wrong with me. Why? So I can be more like Christ. It is a very vulnerable place to be—writhing on the hook when a ‘fisher of people’ has caught you in your sin. But if we can get past our anger and embarrassment and see the love it took to hook us, we can humble ourselves and get one step closer to the person we really want to be.
By Major Amy Reardon, the corps officer at Seattle Temple in the U.S.A. Western Territory.