Hi, my name is Sara and I am a recovering complainer. Yes, a recovering complain-aholic. I'm not perfect, but I have broken free of the nasty habit that was bringing me down, and taking my family with it. Here I'll share with you how I found my JOY!
“Awe man! There are SO many dishes to wash!” “I have to do laundry AGAIN? Ugh!” “I am sooo tired!” “This is the longest line!” “I hate traffic! Why are there so many dang cars on the road?”
When I write out all of the things about which I regularly complained, it looks UGLY with a big fat U. Replace Sara with Debbie and McFall with Downer. When you read those things, how do you feel? Happier? Excited about life? Grateful? Umm…no.
Life Gets Harder
Sure, life had gotten much, much harder. Three kids in four years, homeschooling, hard to get to the gym, tons of laundry, dishes piled high, a house that rarely gets a good cleaning, struggling to learn how to be a good mom. Does this sound like you, too?
Being a mom is tough. Being a dad is tough. Being a kid is tough. Being single is tough. Being handicapped is tough. Being a minority is tough. Being an immigrant is tough. Getting older is tough. Having three kids is tough. Having one kid is tough. Living in a third-world country is super awful tough. See where I'm going with this? It's tough for everyone.
These past few years have been a huge life transformation for me. I'm 33 (nearly 34) and after I had my third child at age 31, I hit my rock bottom. My health had completely plummeted (see my post about Perioral Dermatitis) and I had completely abandoned my spiritual life. I NEEDED community, I needed God back in my life after 10 years of searching for truth and running from it at the same time. So, we returned to church. I started meeting some awesome women, and found out about an awesomesauce mom's bible study (momswithswords.com), and my life started turning around with the conscious decision to work on my own character, integrity, habits and spiritual life.
Then, this past spring, a year and a half after turning my life around, I watched a video about the philosophy of conscious language and the light bulb finally went off – I complain way too much. And where was it getting me? Not just nowhere, but I was going backwards. It was hindering my spiritual growth.
Venting Is Good, Right?
I thought it was my right to complain – that feelings are better dealt with when expressed. “If I can just vent about this, I'll feel better,” I'd tell myself. Like when your phone breaks and you need to call AT&T to complain get it fixed. If I complain, I'll get customer service. Somebody will fix it and my Prince Charming will come rescue me (princess complex?).
I am so blessed because God paired me with my perfect match – Kevin isn't a complainer. He is logical and not nearly as emotional as me (smile), so he would either feel worse when I'd complain (because he often didn't know how to fix the problem) or he'd get annoyed and ask me to stop because it didn't serve a purpose. He was right!
What Does Complaining Do?
Catherine Ponder says, “Whatever you praise increases, whatever you criticize decreases.” Not only was I telling myself that what I have isn't good enough, that God wasn't providing for me, but it was making me feel worse and more ungrateful. Instead solving problems and finding solutions (like, there are a ton of clothes to wash, so I'll wash 2 loads today and 3 tomorrow), I was almost seeking them out because that's what I was focused on – problems. I'm really understanding now that my life heads the direction to which my mind and heart are set!
I noticed my kids were complaining and whining a lot, too. How can I expect them to stop if I'm not modeling it for them? It was annoying my husband and teaching my children ungratefulness, and putting me in a bad mood. I had to stop.
“Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) I knew I had to turn things around and CHOOSE to change and transform my mind.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2) Just turn on the news or go to cnn.com and see that the world loves bad news. To seek out the good (because it IS there!) takes more effort, it's not in our human nature. But it is Godly and heavenly to do so. Heavenly because it connects us to the Divine, especially an attitude of praise and gratitude.
Take Every Thought Captive: Replace Complaints with Thoughts of Gratitude
Growing up in church, I always knew Bible verses like this, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) I had always interpreted that to mean evil thoughts, like ones where I think badly about someone else, or something angry, mean, gossip or sexual. But complaints? Not really. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalms 139:23).
So, I really started taking that first verse to heart, to really take every complaint captive, like a mousetrap. Snap down on that pesky little thought and stop it! But with any habit, it's much easier to change it if you replace it with something else. So, one day, I wrote down my common complaints and a replacement sentence or phrase underneath it. For example:
Complaint: “UGH! I hate washing dishes! There are so many I don't know how I'm even going to start!”
Instead: “I am so grateful we have this many dishes to wash and plenty of food to eat on them. I will turn on some music to make it easier.”
Complaint: “There are SO many clothes to wash! I don't even know how I'm going to get through this today.”
Instead: “I am so grateful we have an abundance of clothes to even wash, and a working washer and dryer with running water! Praise God!”
Compliant: “I am so tired I don't even want to get out of bed and start the day!”
Instead: “Thank you God for this beautiful, new day. I feel awake and alive!
It felt so cheesy and fake at first! I said those things out loud with gritted teeth and a fake smile. But you know what? It only took a few days before it started WORKING. And I mean really, truly working! After one week I was telling my husband, “Man, I've had an awesome week!” and then later realized, it was because I'd hardly uttered a single complaint. Beautiful!
It took me just one week to break the habit. Now, because I'm a human and this is real life, there are weeks when I'm really tired or on my period that the thoughts will creep back up – not with the same intensity as before, but still strong. Those are the weeks I feel like I'm playing mental whack-a-mole (get down! go away! bang! boom!), but because I'm aware of the thoughts and know how much they harm me and my family, I know to stop them now.
Essential Oils Have Also Been Helpful
God brought essential oils and Young Living into my life at exactly the right time – I needed them – physically and emotionally. They have been very helpful to balance my emotions and direct my thoughts. For example, I put the oil blend Transformation on my temples in the mornings as a reminder to keep my mind on things above and even say out loud the verse – “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I know for some of you, that sounds hokey, or silly, like it won't work. I understand, I used to think that, too, about these kinds of things. But try it, just try it for at least a week and then let me know what you think. There is scientific evidence that what we speak outloud activates our subconscious and initiates action. Add the powerful scent and properties of pure essential oils and you've got one heck of a WINNING combination!
I did a broadcast on Periscope about this as well – if you're on there, follow me at @merrymessylife to hear more helpful videos like this one!