What Is the Difference Between Complaining and Informing?

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Avoiding complaining can get a bit fuzzy, at times. There are situations where we need to inform those around us about important things they need to know. How can we discern the difference between complaining vs. informing?
 
Let’s hash through this a bit together.

About Complaining – from www.gotquestions.org:

The Greek word translated “complainer” means literally “one who is discontented with his lot in life.” It is akin to the word grumbler. Complaining is certainly not a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and, in fact, is detrimental to the peace, joy, and patience that come from the Spirit. For the Christian, complaining is destructive and debilitating personally and only serves to make our witness to the world more difficult. Who, for instance, would be attracted to a religion whose adherents are dissatisfied with life and who continually grumble and complain?
Clearly, as believers we are challenged not to grumble or complain (Philippians 2:14-15; 1 Peter 4:9); rather, we are to love one another deeply so that we may become “blameless and pure” in God’s eyes. If we grumble and complain, it shows how worldly we still are (James 4:1-3). A complaining spirit leads to fighting and quarrelling because complaints come from unfulfilled desires, which lead to envy and strife.

How Can I Tell If What I Want to Say Is Complaining or Informing?

My thoughts:

Complaining is primarily about focusing on the negative about circumstances, people, or perceived negatives about God. It is about communicating a lack of gratitude and a lack of faith in the Lord. A complainer is not looking for solutions, but just wants to spread negativity and discontent. The information shared is not something that the hearers need – or want – to know. And, sadly, a complaining spirit is very contagious.

Informing is primarily about sharing important information that the other person needs to know. We may need to share our desires about certain things. We need to share if we are physically, emotionally, or spiritually so unwell that we need help from a specific person. And we need to share, with the right people, if someone else is not okay and he/she needs help.

From four of my wonderful readers (shared with their permission):

  • I think complaining assigns blame, seeks sympathy and usually doesn’t solve anything. The hearer may not need the information at all. Informing seeks solutions and is intended to benefit the hearer by giving them needed information.
  • I look at this way, “First, can it change?” If it can, “does it need to?” And then, “how can I say it in such a way that isnt received as competition?” A lot of concerns come out as “I’m better than you.” Or “At least I do the dishes” when in reality we just want to be appreciated and have our concerns heard.
  • I think it’s all wrapped in the words you use. Instead of saying, “Why do “you” always leave the toilet seat up after “you” go?”   The  better approach would be, “Honey, guess what almost happened to me last night, I almost sat right down into the toilet “…  then ask can we work together to think of a way we could possibly remember to put the seat back down? (This has actually happened to me long ago.) When I made “you” statements, it was complaining. When I made the “we” statements, it included us as a couple/team. Working together for our good. My husband didn’t want me to fall or get wet. It was just a habit he had.  Talking and agreeing on a problem brings resolve. Not pent up frustration that steams and brews until it becomes a screaming match.  Love isn’t like that. Moral of my story:  We agreed to put both the seat and the lid down after using the toilet. Happy endings prevail where love abounds!!😍
  • This scripture impacted me recently. Both complaining about OR withholding the truth of what is going on in our lives can be detrimental. If speaking the truth of our circumstances could lead others to eventually rejoice in God’s deliverance, then it is worth telling. Here, Paul is neither complaining nor withholding:

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭1:8-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬
https://www.bible.com/59/2co.1.8-11.esv

 

I think it is helpful to look at my heart, motives, and scripture as I try to decide if what I want to share is complaining or informing.

Complaining:

  • Am I saying negative things about God, assuming He has evil motives or speaking wrongly about His good character?
  • Am I condemning other people or highlighting their sins to people who aren’t involved and who don’t need to know?
  • Am I walking in a lack of gratitude?
  • How often do I talk about the problem? Is it a continual habit?
  • Am I gossipping? Meaning, am I sharing negative information about others in order to make others thing poorly of someone else or to try to make myself look better than someone else?
  • Do I tell lots of people, even those who can’t do anything to help the situation?
  • Is this simply an annoyance that I could/should overlook?
  • Am I focused on my own personal preferences/comfort more than biblical principals/God’s glory?
  • Am I trying to control something that is not in the realm of my responsibilities?
  • Is this something I need to accept and invite God to use it to change me? What if this trial is an answer to my prayers to help me grow spiritually? Or is it something I have a responsibility to change?
  • Am I encouraging others to complain, to be afraid, to not trust God, or to be upset?
  • Am I attacking or criticizing others?
  • Am I looking for genuine help and resolution of the problem, or do I just want attention and sympathy?
  • Are my motives wrong? Do my words spring from envy, sinful jealousy, selfishness, self-righteousness, gossip, pride, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, malice, idolatry of someone/something (codependency), fault-finding, a critical spirit perfectionism, people pleasing, playing the martyr, fear, a desire to control, assuming the worst motives of others or God, unbelief in God/lack of faith, etc…?
  • What is my goal? Am I trying to resolve something that is resolvable? Or do I just want to say negative things just to say them – and I am not really looking for a solution?

Informing:

  • Do I simply want to make my needs known to God and – in faith – ask for His help and provision?
  • Do I have a legitimate need or problem and am I looking to the person (or people) who can truly help me?
  • Am I seeking only to tell people who actually need to know about the situation?
  • Is my problem a significant one that I can’t handle on my own?
  • Am I asking for things or sharing my perspective or the information I want to share respectfully?
  • Is the problem something that can change and that is my responsibility to try to change?
  • How often am I talking about the problem? Just enough to tell the person who can help me?
  • Is this issue something that grieves God’s heart and something God instructs me to attempt to correct?
  • Are my motives right? Do I seek to get the problem fixed in a way that honors the Lord?
  • Am I acting in divine (1 Cor. 13:4-8 style) love for God and for others?
  • Am I pointing others and myself to trust God, to love others, and to have greater faith?
  • Will my sharing this information spur others on to greater faith in the Lord? Will it help them grow spiritually?
  • Am I reverencing the Lord, respecting other people (my husband, my children, and others), and respecting myself in the situation?

Our pastor said something interesting yesterday,

“Lack of gratitude is the first step toward idolatry.”

Obviously, if we don’t trust and thank the Lord, we are going to look to other things to trust. We must guard our hearts carefully against this tendency, my precious sisters!

Lord,

We need Your clear wisdom, guidance, Word, and Spirit to help us discern rightly in this – and every – area. Help us to see our motives clearly. Help us to long to honor You in our thoughts, attitudes, motives, words, and actions. Help us to receive Your Spirit’s power to walk in holiness because we can’t do this on our own. Change us, Lord! Make us more like Jesus.

Amen!

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What do you think? How do you believe we can discern between complaining and informing? We’d love to hear your thoughts and insights in the comments. Thanks for being on this amazing journey with me.
And let us know how your 21 day fast from negative words is going. It’s not to late to join if you would like to!
RELATED
Complaining rewires our brains, adversely impacts our health, damages the way others think of us, and hurts our relationships. No wonder the Lord doesn’t want us to live like this!
What Does the Bible Say about Complaining? – by www.gotquestions.org
Faith VS Fear – What Does the Bible Say? – by www.gotquestions.org

8 thoughts to “What Is the Difference Between Complaining and Informing?”

    1. Susan’s Saddle Stands and Art,

      Sometimes husbands and wives do have differing definitions about complaining. That is true. None of us likes to be criticized, even if it is constructive criticism. And yet, we all have blind spots and we need the sharpening we can receive in relationships if we are open to it.

      My hope is that we will focus on God’s definition of complaining as we approach this topic. That is the one that really matters. He is the only One we will ultimately answer to.

      Much love! <3

  1. Hi April,
    My 21 day fast from negative words has worked to bring my attention to how many of my words relate to gossip and complaining. It’s showing me that I have a whole lot of sin to work through. Thank you for starting this fast. It’s serving to be a very humbling experience.

    1. Nikki,

      It is extremely humbling, isn’t it? This is why, when I first began my journey, I got REALLY quiet for awhile. Almost every word out of my mouth was something negative, at first. I can’t claim perfection, but I am not the same person I was when I started. God has revealed a lot of sin and has been helping me purge it all out. And He graciously continues to do so. I’m very thankful!

  2. I love this post. Following your blog and reading your book has helped me a lot to have a better awareness of when I’m complaining. The idea that complaining can stem from unfulfilled desires hits home. And that can be challenging as it takes time to really turn to and trust Christ for all our needs.

    I have recently been thinking about the story of the prodigal son. It seems to me both brothers had desires that neither knew how to take to the Father to be met. One went out and caroused in the world looking for satiation and the older brother repressed his desires under a heavy work load.

    One of the biggest challenges I have at the moment is how many even in the church refuse correction. No matter how it is worded it seems to be taken as criticism or having a legalistic or religious spirit. I know we can only do our part and have to be careful not to do the Holy Spirit’s job but it can be equally hurtful to be treated as a complainer when really we have good reason to be concerned and the Holy Spirit is prompting us to share from our hearts over troublesome issues.

    I would love another article on just how the Bible is meant to be used for correction and restoration. How do we speak the truth in love? What do we do when others refuse what we share/our boundaries etc and does anyone even apply Matthew 18 anymore and if so how is that done successfully? As I also find a lot of people gossip and complain because they don’t like to confront problems (in love) or they don’t like to be confronted (in love.) So they find someone else to complain to. Its difficult.

    1. Nicole,

      That is the first step – to be aware of what we are doing. We can’t change what we can’t see.

      That is so true about the prodigal son and the older brother. Thank you for sharing this.

      It is true that many in the church refuse correction. Taking personal responsibility is not very popular. Plus, we have essentially dismantled almost any corporate church discipline in most churches. And, as a result, we are allowing sin to run rampant. I don’t believe we can single-handedly reinstitute Matthew 18 church discipline ourselves. But we can seek to follow it in our own individual lives.

      It can be very dicey to attempt to correct other believers. We certainly need to be sure we have addressed any sin in our own lives (Matt. 7:1-5) and be guarded against sinning ourselves when we seek to restore someone from sin (Gal. 6:1-2), and we do need to follow the pattern of Matt. 18:15-17.

      There are those who will not listen to a godly rebuke. Proverbs has a lot to say about that. Wise people do listen to godly rebukes and criticism, but foolish people do not. In fact, if you attempt to correct a “fool” or “mocker” you will likely “incur abuse.”

      Yes, gossip and complaining is much easier than approaching conflict and sin in biblical ways in the power of the Spirit. But, of course, those approaches create destruction, not healing.

      So, in the church body, it is really not my place to go around rebuking everyone. There are certain people I may need to talk to about sin. But I am not the pastor or a deacon or teacher in the church. I am not in a position of God-given authority over my local church body. So if I see blatant sins that need to be addressed, I may need to bring it to the attention of the church leadership. And pray for God’s wisdom for them.

      If I am being directly sinned against, I may need to be the one to deal with the sin against me (or my children). Or my husband may decide to deal with it. Or if a woman I mentor, who willingly has asked me to mentor her, is sinning, then I may be in a place where I could humbly, respectfully, lovingly address sin.

      But I need to be very prayerful and sure that I am hearing the Spirit and honoring the leadership and those in positions of authority – my husband, the church leadership, etc… And I need to be sure I don’t have a critical spirit and that I am not trying to force my personal convictions on others. I also need to be sure I am not being a busybody.

      This is a huge topic. A super important one.

      The most important thing, I believe, is for us to pray – for the church as a whole, and for ourselves – that we would all repent of all sin. It has to start with each of us individually. That God would expose our sin and that we would have a massive movement of God’s Spirit to bring a new Awakening.

      A prayer partner of mine and I prayed about a year ago for God to expose sin in the leadership of His church – that He might purify His body and make us holy. We were shocked when just 2 hours later that very day, a beloved church leader we both knew was arrested for sexually abusing a young man. We had no clue that had happened. And we were so very grieved to find out. But it was an answer to our prayers. We want the entire church to be purified and holy and pleasing to God – starting with us.

      I have to keep in mind that I am not the primary key. God is. His Spirit is able to convict people of sin and expose sin and open people’s eyes in ways I never could.

      So if I am approaching someone about sin, I must be EXTREMELY humble and sure that it is my place and it is honoring to the Lord for me to address the situation. Otherwise, if I am approaching them in a self-righteous or prideful way, I can make things infinitely worse.

      Much love!

  3. I wonder if its complaining that’s wrong per se, or if its more the base from which we voice a complaint, ie, heart attitude? The Psalms are full of heartfelt outpourings . Hannah poured out the bitterness of her complaint to God. Then there’s the book of Lamentations, which I have not read but in part. But we all know what “lament” means.

    When I think about the various times I have complained, they weren’t all the same. Sometimes my complaint arose out of bitterness of soul. The bitterness of soul arose out of situations where things were corrupt and wrong was upheld over right, truth was not permitted to be told. Injustice I could do nothing about. And sometimes my complaint arose over bitter resentment that in turn, stemmed from feeling “owed”. Sometimes from self pity. Sometimes complaints were a covert way of airing opinions, judgements or even jealousy, and sometimes the complaining arose out of hatred and rebellion. Then there were times where I knew my complaint was just and I could take it to God with the understanding that HE was just and could do something about it. It never ceases to frustrate and amaze me how easily and well sin can dress itself in righteous drag so that we are comfortable with it.

    I think of the Israelites who grumbled and complained because they were tired of “wonder bread”. Don’t you find that odd, April? I mean here these guys have experienced one mountain topping miracle after another and even had God feed them with heavenly food that probably outdid any nutritionally balanced food we would feed astronauts or athletes. They came out of a background of slavery and no doubt didn’t exactly dine on the company credit card ala carte. They moaned over longing for the onions and garlic they ate under their slave driver’s whips in Egypt. However, I wonder if there is a comparison between the Israelites and Egypt, and the unmerciful servant who was forgiven millions in debt then choked a fellow servant for five bucks. Could the years of bondage and hardship hardened into bitterness, self pity and entitlement? Could the ones who perished have thought God owed it to them to get them out of slavery?

    I think that’s one difference I could see between say Hannah, and the Israelites who perished because of unbelief. Hannah was a godly woman and her “locus of control” wasn’t in herself but in God. She saw Him as the center of it all, not herself. She brought her complaint to Him because she trusted He was just, reasonable, merciful and the one who could do something about her situation. Yet she demanded nothing irreverently but rather poured out her heart in truth and reverence. She walked in faith. Those who walked in unbelief continually provoked God in the wilderness and perished after displays of bitter demanding complaints. As the late Keith Green sang in So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt” , ” we once complained for something new to munch; the ground opened up and had some of us for lunch, oooh, my life’s on the skids, give me the pyramids”!

    So would it be a fair assessment to say that the difference between a right complaint and a wrong one is at root, between faith or unbelief and the way those two states of heart and mind affect our lives and attitudes?

    1. SevenTimes,

      I think it makes it confusing because we have one word in English that can mean multiple things. I think it would be easier to differentiate if we were reading in the original Hebrew in the Old Testament or in Greek in the New Testament.

      We do need to present our concerns and requests to the Lord in faith. That is a good thing!

      But we don’t need to grumble against God or be filled with unbelief.

      The attitude and heart is key, yes!

      And, of course, our word choices will be different depending in our attitudes and faith, as well.

      Much love!

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