COMPLAIN YOUR WAY TO A BETTER LIFE
A man wanted to become a monk so he went to the monastery and talked to the head monk. The head monk said, “You must take a vow of silence and can only say two words every three years.” The man agreed and after the first 3 years, the head monk came to him and said, “What are your two words?” “Food cold!” the man replied. Three more years went by and the head monk came to him and said “What are your two words?” “Robe dirty!” the man exclaimed. Three more years went by and the head monk came to him and said, “What are your two words?” “I quit!” said the man. “Well,” the head monk replied, “I am not surprised. You have done nothing but complain ever since you got here!”
Most of us complain but too few of us complain enough or do it particularly well. Literally hundreds of thousands of lives and thousands of marriages have been ruined but could have been saved if there was more and better complaining! One of the essential skills every person – and especially every leader – must have is the ability to complain. Learning how to do this well could save your life, your marriage, your business, and open up amazing opportunities for you.
One of life’s great injustices is that we often learn its most valuable lessons too late! Many of us can look back over our lives and see how we could have done things so much better if we had only known then what we know now. The Christian band, Mercy Me, capture this sentiment beautifully in their song – Dear Younger Me.
Dear younger me
Where do I start
If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far
Then you could be
One step ahead
Of all the painful memories still running thru my head
I wonder how much different things would be
Dear younger me, dear younger me
Dear younger me
I cannot decide
Do I give some speech about how to get the most out of your life
Or do I go deep
And try to change
The choices that you’ll make cuz they’re choices that made me
Even though I love this crazy life
Sometimes I wish it was a smoother ride
Dear younger me, dear younger me
One of the most painful examples of this late-in-life-lessons is the rate of Christians who divorce and remarry. According to Gallop, some 40% of Christian marriages in America are ending in divorce (this of course means that 60% last a life-time). Curiously though, 70% of these divorced Christians who have remarried have coincidentally deepened their spiritual life and consequently their commitment to their local church. Perhaps many of these people would, with a sigh of regret, tell us that during their first marriage they made some big mistakes. Among the biggest, they would say, was that they neglected to put God first in their relationship (Matthew 6:33). It’s easy to do of course. Married life is an adjustment. Then children come along and those things that make for an Acts 2 type of Christianity get put off for a day, then a week, then a month. Prayer, Home Group, Bible reading/study, and attending Church worship become too inconvenient and less of a priority and an all-too obvious indicator of where they are at spiritually. Yet all of this damage could be avoided if someone had complained.
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
WHY SOME COMPLAINTS DON’T WORK
An expert complainer is not necessarily someone who does a lot of complaining (although most expert complainers do a lot of complaining). Rather, an expert complainer is someone who avoids the common mistakes of lower-ranked complainers and has learned how to use positively use complaining to bring about helpful change. Expert complainers complain because they care. Lower-ranked complainers usually complain because they are frustrated, hurt, angry, and want to let others know how upset they are. People rarely listen to lower-ranked complainers. They sound like whiners, whingers, moaners. Whereas a higher-ranked complainer sounds like they are trying to help.
Shortly after I arrived in Tasmania in 1995, our little church grew rather rapidly. You would think that everyone in our church would have been happy about that. But I received a lot of complaints from many (not most and certainly not all) of the 17 members who were in the church when I arrived. One of them took it upon themselves to write a letter to me telling me how arrogant I was, how all I wanted to do was to bring fancy “mainland” ideas to our church, and how everyone in our church was so unhappy with me. It was (un)signed ‘anonymous’. Top-ranked complainers don’t do things like that. They’ve learned that the best complaints happen eye-to-eye.
Kim is a great complainer. The other day as we were hosting our guest from Missouri, Kim and the girls took him into our city to buy some souvenirs. She got into town just after 4PM and went to one of the major souvenir gift shops but the lady had just shut and locked the door. Kim thought this rather strange especially since their closing time was 5:30PM. The lady yelled out from behind the locked glass door that she had to have a restroom break and that there was no one to mind the shop. “Come back in ten minutes” she told Kim and our guest. Kim did. But this time not only was the door still locked now the lights were turned off. Kim knocked at the door and the lady behind the counter yelled back, “We’re closed and I’m just counting up the till so I can’t let you in.” In our attempts to show off our city to our American visitor this small-mindedness was extremely embarrassing for us. The next day Kim went back to complain and the rest is now history.
I remembered God, and was troubled;
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.
If you want to be a better complainer you have to learn to become a better carer. The reason many lower ranked complainers don’t get heard much is because they moan rather than care. They make their complaint more about them and their feelings than the other person and how they can be helped.
COMPLAINERS IN THE BIBLE
We see both types of complainers in the pages of Scripture. The children of Israel complained in a moaning fashion when they came out of Egypt into the Sinai Wilderness.
¶ And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp.
But we also read of King David complaining to the Lord in prayer and seeking God’s help for his predicament (Psalm 5). And in the closing book of the Bible, we read of King Jesus declaring His complaints against several churches.
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
A careful reading of the Lord’s complaints in the second and third chapters of The Revelation will reveal a First Class Complainer – because He cares like none other. His complaints were not mere criticisms. His complaints contained hope, and a positive remedy. Ours can too.
FIVE STEPS TO BECOMING A FIRST CLASS COMPLAINER
STEP 1 – Start to ask for permission from the one you want to complain to before making your complaint.
STEP 2 – Start to make your complaints about the behaviour or action of a person, rather than the person (distinguish the behaviour of the person from the person themselves). Don’t ever say, “The problem with you is … !” Rather say, “When you do this [insert particular behaviour here] it irritates me because …. “
STEP 3 – Be more selective in who you complain to. First Class Complainers don’t complain to everyone, rather they complain to the one who needs to hear it and could make the necessary changes.
STEP 4 – Before you complain, be open to the fact that you just might be mistaken. Therefore, ask some clarifying questions to determine whether you have the whole story and have it correct so that your complaint is at least justified.
STEP 5 – Be prepared to help the one your complaining to. As followers of Christ, this at least means that we pray for this person to be blessed before and after we make our complaint.
Follow these steps and it just might save your marriage, your job, your business, and maybe even your life. When I worked for Kmart we were always taught that our best customer was our complaining customer, because they could help us improve our business, whereas the dissatisfied customer who didn’t complain not only didn’t continue shopping with us, but usually told seven other potential customers to stop shopping with us as well.
THE OTHER SIDE TO COMPLAINING
But what if someone complains about you or to you? A wise person will listen to their critics and treat constructive criticism as a gift.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
A lot more marriages could be saved if more husbands understood that when their wife complains to them, it has the potential to make them a better husband and give them a better marriage. And perhaps more churches could avoid splits and schisms if everyone put Philippians 2:14-15 into a practice, which would ultimately make our world a better place.
¶ Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.