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Crossroads of the Marine Corps

Joyless Complaining

21 Apr 2016 | Lt. Loren Crone; Chaplain, MCESG Marine Corps Base Quantico

Job 10:1 “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (ESV)

It’s spring, I think. The weather does not seem to talk to the seasons. Spring or not, the weather always gives us something to complain about. This past winter proved warmer than usual, but I still complained when buying more propane. Complaining comes as natural as eating, sleeping, and breathing. Six years in the military convinced me that if complaining could become a sport or board game, service members would prove the greatest complaining force on earth. Think of all the things we get to complain about. A casual list might include: the last guy who did our job, bureaucracy, civilian masters, headquarters, spouses, annual training, reporting requirements, promotion, and traffic. Negativity is inherent in all of these, but does that warrant complaint?

One of the most common responses to the question “How are you?” is “Can’t complain.” A good response to that statement: “You can, but you choose not to.” Why would anyone choose not to complain? When one considers the origin of a complaint, it would seem everyone should do it. Complaining results from the human feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment, at either a physical or spiritual level. The verse from the book of Job was chosen specifically because, by all indications, he was the only one who appeared to have the right to complain; however, Job does not get better by complaining, he receives no reward, and in fact, it seems his plight worsens. If the circumstance for a person who has the “right” to complain gets worse, then what good is complaining? The negative results from complaining prove too many to count, so let us consider just three.

Complaining steals joy by reducing gratitude. A sign hangs outside my office that says, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” The more one complains, the more they fail to appreciate the good parts of life. In other words, complaining reduces happiness, while it makes you think you feel better. It’s like picking a scab; great sensation, but in reality it prevents the wound from healing.

Complaining proves infectious. “Misery loves company,” they say. Complaining proves counterintuitive. Some believe that complaining builds camaraderie, yet the reality is that while it may make two or more people feel closer, complaining makes everyone collectively worse. Complainers collaborating reinforce negativity, which forces morale to descend to a level it could not have individually.

Complaining becomes a way of thinking. When one begins to complain, the complaint becomes the reality whether true or not. You may not know whether you actually hate your job, boss, or commute, you just know you’ve said it enough times that it must be true.

All that said, it would be good to remember that God hates complaining. It caused the children of Israel to wander in the wilderness 40 years, and worse, many of them died as a result of complaining. The remedy to complaining is expressing gratitude. I suggest you think of something right now that you are thankful for in your life. Call your spouse and tell them one thing you are thankful for in your marriage. Tell a coworker one thing you are grateful for at your office. Call your mom or dad and tell them one great thing they did for you as a child. And for the record, I am not complaining about complaining.

Marine Corps Base Quantico