When I was a few weeks from my 40th birthday I began to reminisce about the influences on my life. For some reason I got an idea to compile several lists of 40 items that had blessed and helped me to that point of my life. It was a fun and humbling exercise. I wrote the forty people, events, and books that had shaped me.
One of the names on that list was a laymen that worked with the teenagers in our church. His name was Gabby Dickerson and he worked for the post office. He was a great teacher and a lot of fun. I still remember some of his lessons, four decades later.
However, it wasn’t just his ability to teach and connect with teenagers that helped me, but it was his spirit. Gabby attracted people to him because of his positive attitude. He always saw the upside, had a great sense of humor and was quick to laugh. I loved this good man.
Decades later I heard he was in the hospital, very sick from a brain tumor. I went to visit with him and he couldn’t say hardly anything, but the smile, warmth and genuineness of his heart were still there. Shortly after my visit with my friend he went to Heaven. Even on his deathbed he had a joyful, positive spirit.
The most powerful thing about a church, a family, or an individual is their spirit. Every person or group carries with them an atmosphere that expresses a certain disposition or mood. This environment of their spirit either attracts or repels people to them. It is easily seen and experienced, but not easily defined.
One of the primary responsibilities of a leader (father, boss, pastor, coach) is to guard his spirit and those whom they lead. When one’s spirit is ugly, unattractive, and negative it reproduces itself in the lives of those with whom they spend the most time.
The chief characteristic of a negative environment is one of complaining and griping. It happens to individuals, teams, families, churches, businesses, organizations and even nations. The result is never good. The worst part is that it is perpetuated until someone breaks the cycle.
Some that are reading this don’t even realize how toxic their spirit is. Perhaps you grew up in a family that was very negative. Your parents were ungrateful and griped regularly. Your siblings always saw the rain instead of the rainbow. To even be in an affirming environment makes you uncomfortable because you don’t understand the vocabulary or how to respond.
It need not be this way. If you would have a joyful life and a positive influence on those around you it it cannot be this way. While you cannot fully extricate yourself from a negative home, workplace or other required site you frequent, you can choose the kind of spirit and response you have.
Gripers and complainers gradually destroy your spirit. Over time you pick up the same attitude and spread the toxin of negativity to those around you. One of the joys of the early church was the fresh touch of God on them characterized by joy and gladness; they didn’t complain – “And they…did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart”. (Acts 2:46) It was a happy place! They weren’t people that were griping, but joyful, and grateful. I want to exude that type of environment in my own spirit, especially in my home.
Griping is socially acceptable because so many people do it. It is natural and easy for us to complain. Our depraved and corrupt nature tends to readily focus on the negative and be quick to complain about it. It’s a sin that we let slide because we feel it does little harm.
The Bible speaks about unbelievers that they “are murmurers, complainers” (Jude 15-16). Such a spirit is also seen in God’s people. One church was rebuked for expressing their complaining through “envying, strife, and divisions” (I Corinthians 3:3). Can you imagine attending a church like that? Can you imagine living in a home like that? Sadly, many do – and not without consequence.
A griper is one that is discontented. Not only is he unhappy, but he doesn’t want anyone around him to be happy. In fact, complainers can get angry if you fail to agree with them or refuse to chime in with their negative words. Ted Camp said, “No one likes to be mad alone; they want other people to know they are mad”.
To gripe is “to complain, nag and grumble, to irritate or annoy others”. To complain is “to express grief, pain or discontentment”. These definitions give us a broad understanding of what a complainer and griper is like. Go back and read them again. Do they consistently characterize your words and your spirit? None of them are healthy and life-giving, but rather unhealthy and sap the energy from those with whom you associate.
My favorite operational definition is one I borrow from Dr. Bill Rice III. He says that “griping is speaking to someone in a negative tone about something which they can do nothing about”. The two components of this definition are alarm bells to help me know when I am griping; (1) my words are negative and (2) the other person cannot do a thing about what I am saying to them.
We gripe about the weather, our lot in life, our health issues, relationship problems, a bad boss – and the people to whom we talk cannot do anything about it. Yet, we drone on with the bad news.
I have a bad metaphor for such speech, “verbally throwing up on someone”. Sorry for the vivid word picture, but it gives me pause when I want to complain to my wife or my friends, knowing they are walking away from our conversation not feeling blessed, but being the recipient of my cynical, negative attitude, and it sticks to them with an unpleasant odor.
Samuel Johnson wrote, “When any fit of gloominess, or perversion of mind, lays hold upon you, make it a rule not to publish it by complaints”.
When my friend Gabby graduated to Heaven I went to his funeral. As I stood before his coffin I thanked the Lord for his influence in my life. He was a great teacher and a friend, but most of all, I was influenced by his positive spirit. I loved spending time with him.
As I write this I am older than he was when he died and it’s sobering. I wonder, when my wife, children and friends gather around my cold body in death what will they recall? My cynical outlook on life, my negative and critical words, my complaining spirit? My heart’s desire is that they might be able to remember me like I did my friend, Gabby.
The positive influence he had on me I want to have on people, especially my family and friends. But it won’t happen if I’m a chronic complainer.
“If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out. Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy, any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.” (Randy Pausch from The Last Lecture)