I was picking up a friend visiting our area at his hotel to take him to lunch. Just before leaving his room he had to make a quick phone call to a mutual friend of ours.
He made the call and the wife answered. My buddy cheerfully greeted her and said, “Well, how have you been doing?” For the next five minutes the only thing he did was to grunt an acknowledgement occasionally. After listening to her long barrage of complaints, he finally discovered his friend wasn’t even at home!
As we walked to the car I said, “Well, I could have saved you from that conversation. His wife has a reputation for focusing on the negative. Anytime you ask how she is doing, her response centers around her personal pains and problems. Honestly, people that know her never ask how she is doing because of her chronic griping”.
Here’s the sad part. This was someone that had been in ministry for decades and should have known better. Rather than being an encourager that made positive deposits in those with whom she spoke, she discouraged people and made it so no one wanted to talk to her. She saw life solely from her side and wasn’t interested in ministering to others.
It’s easy to complain; we all do it at times. A chronic griper, however, is one who is a drain on everyone in their environment.
What characterizes griping? The operational definition for complaining is “speaking negatively to a person about something which they can do nothing”. Under rare circumstances should we communicate issues about which we are not a part of the solution.
Socrates wrote, “Strong minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; weak minds discuss people”. Mentally lazy and bitter people complain about people and their circumstances; they follow the path of least resistance.
Negative, complaining leaders especially are a burden to people. We look to leaders for inspiration and words that communicate hope. A pessimistic leader destroys the morale of those whom they are supposed to inspire and bless!
“Leaders are dealers in hope”, said Napoleon Bonaparte. Leaders don’t gain traction by griping about their status in life or their organization, even if it is true.
One of the primary reasons leaders gripe is because of the weight of their responsibilities. This is seen in Moses, one of the greatest leaders in history. No one in the Bible had a more difficult time with his followers than Moses. He was tasked with leading over 3 million ungrateful people for over forty years.
As they complained to him (and they did, a lot), he complained to God about them and his perception that too much was expected of him. It got to the point where he asked God to kill him.
“Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased. And Moses said unto the LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness”. (Numbers 11:10-15)
He was frustrated with the people and with God for permitting things to become so difficult. Moses had become a complaining leader. In fact, at this point he wasn’t leading at all, just griping.
It’s difficult to follow a negative leader, whether it be a husband, parent, boss, pastor or coach. Their attitude poisons everything they do and everyone with whom they interact. Energy is wasted seeing the negative and complaining rather than solving problems.
Self-pity causes one to see problems bigger than they really are. Instead of leading and initiating we react and wish our burdens would be alleviated. All the while the situation grows worse.
God allows pressures in our lives to form character. They deepen our compassion and give us a context of experience crucial in being an effective leader. Complaining is an indicator that we aren’t learning and growing from our burden, but resenting it.
Jerry Falwell said, “God will not put more on you than He puts in you”. Those that know Christ have His Spirit to strengthen and enable them in adversity (I Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 6:10). No problem we have is a match for God’s power. It takes pressure for us to change our focus from what we can do to what He can and wants to do in and through us.
Challenges help us to see God from a different viewpoint. Our inadequacies are opportunities for His strength to be our sufficiency (II Corinthians 3:5; 12:9-10) and for us to know Him better (Philippians 3:10).
However, when we turn to our own resources in adversity we become frustrated at God when we experience failure and then burn out. Then, we blame God and others for our lack of surrender and dependence on Him.
Looking at our insufficient resources rather than God’s sufficiency will always result in fear, doubt, and at some point, anger and griping. We become blinded to God’s working around us and the many blessings we have.
“When we pity ourselves all we see is ourselves. When we have problems, all we see are our problems and that’s all what we love of talking about. We don’t see the good things in our lives.” (Ann Marie Aguilar)
This is what happened to Moses and if it can happen to him, a godly man and a tremendous leader, it can happen to us.
If we are honest it has happened to us – many times. And it impacts our ability to lead well. Those that look to us for leadership pay a great price for our complaining. I think this happens in our homes more than any other place.
Many years ago our church was going through some financial struggles and it brought a lot of stress in my life, more than I had ever experienced. I was on a trip out of state with Paula and the kids to rest and invest in them, having fun and making some good memories.
We were about to leave our hotel room to go swimming and I got a call about a situation that stemmed from the problems at church. (When you’re a leader you can’t easily leave pressures behind, they tend to track you down). I told the family to go on ahead and I would join them shortly.
After a long conversation I was drained emotionally and had no desire to be with anyone. I sat on the bed having a pity party, complaining to God about a financial burden which I hadn’t created and was having to shoulder. (God was allowing me to experience this trial to know Him better, broaden my future ministry and to strengthen my character, but I couldn’t see it at the moment).
A year earlier an older preacher , Glenn Mathews, had spoken at our church. He had told me something that I remembered, “Rick, if you ever need to talk to me about anything, feel free to call me; I would love to help you”. The way he said it was very sincere and he had a lot of wisdom and experience with what I was going through as he had been a pastor, too.I called him and poured out my heart to him. He gave me not only a listening ear, but some helpful advice. After we concluded, I prayed and committed the situation to God and went to be with my family with a better perspective and attitude. The problem hadn’t changed, but I had changed.
I have always been careful to not carry the pressures and burdens from church (there are plenty of blessings, too!) home to my family. My primary area of leadership is with my wife and children and I don’t want to make our home a place of negativity. I have tried to protect Paula from personal criticisms I hear about myself or unpleasant situations about which she can do nothing. My children weren’t made aware of problems at work either.
I’m surely not the poster boy on not complaining as a leader, but I do work at it. I don’t want those under me to be on the brunt end of a negative, cynical spirit. Here are three ways I handle those times when I am burdened and tempted to complain to others.
- I pour my heart out to the Lord about the situation and rest in His grace and strength (Psalm 62:8). Rarely do I “feel” strong after I do this, but I just by faith go on to the next responsibility. I find strength to do just that one thing, even though sometimes I feel very weak and don’t have all the answers or solutions.
- Sometimes I speak to a trusted friend or mentor for direction. Even if they cannot solve the problem (most of the time they can’t) they provide encouragement and perspective.
- I realize that my job as a leader is to solve problems. When one is able to find answers to difficult issues it establishes their leadership. Anyone can identify a problem, but an effective leader improves a negative situation. Problem-solving is part of a leader’s job description.
Let the Lord help you in your challenges. He wants to and can do more for you in five minutes than you can do for yourself in five years. Call your “Glenn Mathews” or “Richard White” and allow them to help you see things from another perspective. See your problems as a way to develop character and to grow as a leader.
Problems are a normal part of leadership. Without them, I wouldn’t have a job! May God pour His grace on you and strengthen your leadership in your family, church, workplace and community so that you might change from having a complaining spirit to a contented, grateful spirit.
Someone wrote, “So often, we try to alter circumstances to suit ourselves, instead of letting them alter us, which is what they are meant to do”.