Have you heard the saying, there is always something to be thankful for? But doesn’t it seem there is always something to complain about? Why is that?
Well, there’s a reason, several reasons actually. For some of the reasons, let’s look into what Psychology has to say. I love Psychology. I didn’t know I loved it until long after I graduated college (I ended up getting my degree in Chemistry, Physics and Math). I find the Psychology behind negativity fascinating. There are two concepts, called the Negativity bias and the Prospect Theory, that say people are more likely to choose things based on their need to avoid negative experiences, rather than their desire to get positive experiences.
Psychologists conclude negative experiences or the fear of them has a greater impact on people than positive experiences. Negative experiences sear to our brain instantly, whereas, positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than 12 seconds in order for it to transfer from short-term memory to long-term memory. Psychologists say that unless we are occupied with other thoughts, worry is the brain’s default position.
Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as eating a pound of bacon for breakfast — complaining isn’t good for us. Repeated complaining wires our brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, we’ll find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around us. Complaining becomes our default behavior.
Here’s the kicker: complaining damages areas of our brains. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus — an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. It’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage! A few other health concerns: complaining release the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs our immune systems and makes us more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And since we mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with, complaining is a lot like smoking — we don’t have to do it ourselves to suffer the ill effects.
Taking time to be thankful isn’t merely the right thing to do; it also beneficial for our health. Gratefulness reduces that stress hormone cortisol which improves our moods, gives us energy and substantially lowers our anxiety levels.
Not only is complaining bad for our health, it is bad for our relationships. Complainers repel others with their negativity. Sometimes I don’t even want to be around myself when I’m in a negative and complaining mood. It also influences others to be negative and ungrateful toward God (we can influence our roommates, our families). If that’s not bad enough, it affects our relationship with God.
We hinder our ability to intimately fellowship with God when we complain. Complaining causes us to focus on circumstances and not on God to satisfy us. Ungratefulness hinders our faith, hinders our ability to see God, to see Him at work, and to trust that He cares for us.
Ungratefulness is bad for our health, bad for our relationships with each other and bad for our relationship with God. What does the Bible have to say about it?
Well, the Bible says we will have problems. In John 16:33, Jesus says “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.” We will have problems; don’t ever be surprised by this. But we needn’t lose sight of God when problems come.
Sometimes God will cause problems in our lives because we are losing sight of him. John Eldredge in his book, Journey of Desire, calls God the Divine Thwarter. Sometimes God will thwart our plans on purpose, and this is when it’s easy to complain. (I can’t find a job, I don’t have a relationship, my computer isn’t working, the internet is down, etc…) The first time I really came to understand this concept of God as the Divine Thwarter was back in the early 2000’s. I was first on staff and needed my own computer. My Grandpa, who recently became a Christian and was very excited about me joining the ministry, offered to buy me any laptop I wanted. I got to pick out the specs and nearly everything I wanted (trying to keep it reasonable, of course). I put a lot of time and thought into it, and boy, was I excited to get it. Once it was ordered, I tracked the shipping and counted down the days. And wouldn’t you know the thing was delayed, not once, but twice! And it was June, there wasn’t even a weather issue! Oh, I was frustrated and just wanted to complain. But right around that same time, I first heard the concept of the Divine Thwarter and realized God was thwarting my desire on PURPOSE! I was putting all my hope and joy into receiving this new laptop, and my hope was not in Him. So I confessed where I was at, stopped complaining, and put my hope back in God. Then I patiently waited out the extra days for my computer to come.
We can either focus on God or focus on our problems. Our minds can be filled with only one or the other. It is impossible to thank God and blame God at the same time. There is always something to complain about. There is also always something to be thankful for.
God wants us to give Him our problems, whether caused by Him when He’s divinely thwarting us or caused by the World. We live in a broken world with broken people, and we are hurt & frustrated by it. 1 Peter 5:7 was one of the very first verses I ever memorized. It says, “cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” Cast ALL your cares on him, because he CARES for you!
There’s a quote by Elizabeth Elliot that I enjoy, “If it’s big enough to worry (complain) about it’s big enough to pray about.” God wants us to cast ALL our cares on Him.
Another familiar verse is Phil 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” We could camp out in this verse for several blog posts. But I’ll just hit a few highlights. Did you know, as a Christian, we have the option to not be anxious? God wouldn’t command it if it wasn’t possible through Him. We don’t have to be anxious about anything. Period. Ever. Period. This is good news, especially for those of us who are prone to anxiety. I know what’s it’s like to deal with anxiety and panic attacks. But God gives us another option. Paul says “INSTEAD, in every situation,” we can pray about it, with thanksgiving. All our cares. All of them. Every situation. With thanksgiving. We can always find something to be thankful for, because there is always something about God to be thankful for. We can be thankful that He is Sovereign, in control of the frustrating situation, that He loves you when someone else was rude, that He is your provider when you are out of money, etc…
And then it gets even better, as we tell our requests to God, with thanksgiving, the peace of God that surpasses understanding (and does it surpass my understanding) will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. I don’t understand at all how it works, but I know by experience personally and through living life alongside people, that His peace comes and it guards our hearts and minds. What a huge blessing! That His peace will guard our hearts and minds instead of them being attacked by anxiety.
Many times my time alone with God starts out with a list of worries. My concerns and complaints are the loudest things in my head and I can’t concentrate on anything else, and they get louder the less I am trusting God with them. So, in humility and trust, I give each one over to God. Some are easy, some are hard. Especially with the hard ones, I need to remember and believe that He is God, He is Good, His heart towards me is good, and He can and will take care of each one of my concerns in His way and timing. After this time of surrender and being thankful for who God is, my heart can be still and I can actually live out Ps 46:10 to “Be Still and Know that I am God…”
If you continue on after the verses in Phil 4:6-7, into verse 8, Paul says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I thought it was interesting to look at the opposite of each of the things in this verse.
- True False (Fantasy)
Whatever is true. Frequently I will have bad dreams, and now that I have a daughter, they are usually about some kind of harm coming to her. I have a choice in that moment, to entertain that thought, which I have and it will lay me flat in my emotions and ruin my morning, even my day. Or I can declare it not true, declare the truth that she is currently safe in her crib, and always safe in God’s hands and reject the thought. The same with fantasy. As a single gal I used to daydream about whichever boy I had a crush on. I could entertain the fun daydreams, which would get my heart and longings for relationship going, or I could choose to stop the daydream and trust God with my heart and desire. When I entertain a fantasy, I’m not thankful to God for where He has me, and I quickly become ungrateful, wishing for the fantasy to become reality.
The same choice applies to each thought on this list. The enemy will CONSISTENTLY try to throw a negative thought our way. Don’t grow discouraged at what he throws your way. You have an incredible option as a Christian to reject it, to turn to God, and think about the list Paul gives us. Let’s keep going with our list.
- Nobel Ignoble (dishonorable in character or purpose) Such as complaining about a professor, boss, coworker, roommate which is dishonorable to them.
- Right Wrong
- Pure Dirty
- Lovely Ugly
- Admirable Unworthy
- Excellent Poor
- Praiseworthy Blameworthy (we can either blame God or thank God)
When we are thankful, it awakens us to God’s presence and overshadows all our problems. Giving thanks fills our minds with God’s goodness and power rather than our anxieties. When we thank God for what he has done, it reminds us of who God is and what he can do in our lives. The more we thank God, the more confident we become in Him and the less the enemy can discourage us.
The Psalms are filled with shouts and songs of Thanksgiving to God. A common theme with thanksgiving in the Psalms is this is how we enter God’s presence:
Psalm 95:1-2 Come! Let’s sing for joy to the Lord! Let’s shout out praises to our protector who delivers us! Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving! Let’s shout out to him in celebration!
Ps 100:4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
We enter God’s presence through Thanksgiving! How cool is that?!
There’s a thought from Jesus Calling, November 1st that I thought was encouraging. It said along the lines of: Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty of keeping your focus on God. It’s a lofty goal to continually be aware of His Presence. He is delighted by your desire to walk closely with Him. He is pleased each time you initiate communication with Him. He notices the progress you make. When you wander into negativity, don’t be surprised or alarmed at how easy it is to be negative. Our world is rigged to distract us and to bring us down. We live in a broken world. But each time you plow your way through the massive distractions to be thankful to God, you achieve a victory. Rejoice in these tiny triumphs!
We are in constant need of help. We hate that, because it’s not the American way. Exactly! It’s God’s way, he designed us with limitations and designed us to need Him. He wants us to come to Him with our neediness! Paul says in Phil 4:11-13 I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. We are familiar with the end of this verse, but did you catch the context? Paul learned to be content/thankful, rather than discontent/complaining. He learned. It’s a journey, even for Paul. And if it was a journey for him, it’s also a journey for us. It’s possible for us to be content and not complainers.
Another verse that shows God will give us the desire and the ability to be thankful is Phil 2:13-15 Paul says, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure…” The ability, as well as the desire, to be thankful comes from God.
We also need each other. Just as a complaining person is contagious, so is a positive person. Be around contagious people! Be that kind of person. Community is necessary to live with thankful hearts.
I have also noticed a trend that thankfulness and song are often woven together.
Ps 69:30 I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
Colossians 3:15-17 (NCV) Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace. Always be thankful. Let the teaching of Christ live in you richly. Use all wisdom to teach and instruct each other by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Everything you do or say should be done to obey Jesus your Lord. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus. Did you notice that the command to sing is sandwiched between two verses on thankfulness? Thanksgiving is the fuel for our worship.
I encourage you to spend some time today praising His name in song, and let Him fill your mind so your worries, problems and complaints cannot. Enter His presence through a time of thanksgiving & praise.