I have had several requests both in comments and emails for practical ways to apply a complaining fast (which I talked about in this post.) Our family is not yours and I would say the best thing to do is pray about it and ask God for wisdom before you start. The following are what work for us.
My kids and I are all visual learners–poor hubby is the only audio in the household. 🙂 This makes visual tools helpful and even necessary when trying to teach them–especially when trying to weed out something as deeply rooted as complaining. I have several reminders that I sketch out when the complaining starts. (I guess that I should also mention that avoiding tv is a great way to start–discontent is spread by tv commercials big time. We don’t have tv so it isn’t as much trouble though magazines are a discontent trigger around here.)
1. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
This applies as much to complaints as it does to antiques. You have likely heard it applied before –“Eat your vegetables, there are little children in your favorite country here who would love what you have.” As cliche as it is it is very true. You don’t have to point it out in the same manner that your parents did but pointing out that their best friend lives where there is NO SNOW is a very good way to remind the child who suddenly got snow when they wanted spring that they are blessed.
Finding a blessing in each complaint is an excellent way to go about this and puts the burden on the complainer instead of on the one trying to teach non-complaining (and there is no point in trying to teach it to your kids if you are a complainer–the whole plank in the eye thing applies here.) I have my kids draw their complaints and find five ways that their complaints could be considered blessings. (In fact, think about it, often the things you hate worst about another person are the things that you love most about them.)
2. Diagram your attitude.
In general, complaining stems from a selfish attitude. (Poor me/it’s all about me.) Yesterday we had a little lesson about this that helped my oldest visualize it and see why we are to focus on loving others instead of loving ourselves. In that case I used Rachel and all that she had complained about that day but for her sake I will use Alexander as an example. As you know from the story not only does Alexander have a terrible, no good, very bad day, but he also complains about it to everyone.
Now some of the things that happened to him were his fault and some of them weren’t but all of them made him grumpy because of his focus. Instead of thinking about others and how they were feeling he was focused on himself and how each thing made him feel.
What happens when you are focused on yourself and how things make you feel is that you start to collapse in on yourself. You stop thinking about others and how they are feeling and think more and more about yourself. It is the very reason complaining leads to depression. The more you coplain the more you self-focus, the more you self-focus the more you have to complain about .
What happens if you turn around each of these complaints and make the best of each?
Sure these things seem goody-two-shoes but this IS the way we are called to respond as Christians. And look what happens when those attitudes change:
We grow outward! Instead of collapsing in on our selves there is plenty of room to expand out towards others. You can always think more about others–there is only so much room for you to focus on your self. The cool thing is that when I was doing this illustration with Rachel I didn’t notice the collapsing/expanding part–she noticed it and it hit home.3. Count your blessings.
This one is kind of obvious. Sure, you may have something that seems like a curse but what about your blessings? Complainers tend to focus on the bad stuff and often need to make plenty of “thankful lists” before they break the habit. This is how God did it for me. Every time I started to complain I would battle it with a praise. After a while the complaining habit broke and it was replaced with a habit of praise. With my kids I have them write or draw it–and once they get started it is hard to stop.
4. Dying to self.
This illustration goes even further as we applied it to our life in Christ. We are called to die to ourselves and Christ uses a seed as an example. So, I used a seed to demonstrate this same concept.
Now, I grew up on a large space of land and we had lots of oak trees. That means we had TONS of acorns. A few of the acorns made it into the ground each year but more of them were stored up to be eaten or rot. Some acorns that were left behind would start to put forth shoots and grow roots, others would just stay acorns. My brother and I used to play all kinds of things with acorns and, in the spring, more often than not would find rotten ones full of worms.
The other ones, the ones that put forth shoots soon were no longer acorns. They didn’t rot at all instead they grew into tiny trees, and the ones that really persevered would grow into huge oak trees.
So for an acorn to stay an acorn meant it would eventually rot and get worms but the one that gave up being an acorn became a mighty oak tree. An acorns such a small, little thing but it is full of an amazing potential if it is willing to give up being an acorn. The same applies to us.
When we are caught up in ourselves and complaining all the time we are like a acorn trying to stay an acorn. When we stop looking at ourselves and think about others we can grow.