Yesterday, in church, Adam and I attended the young married's group Sunday School. We've recently started a new study series and it's been taking Adam and I a bit of time to warm up to the guy's speaking style (we're watching DVDs). He's definitely winning us over (or rather, the truth in his words is), but sometimes his word choice throws me off. That's a good thing.

The word that bothered me most yesterday was in one of his key points about communication in marriage: Spouses must have the freedom to complain to one another.


Complain? Haven't I been taught my entire life that complaining is a sin? Aside from all the times it was hammered into me by my parents, I was profoundly impacted by a single sermon at a friend's youth group in high school. The pastor preached the whole sermon against complaining and summed it up with: "Complaining is an insult to the sovereignty of God. It's you saying, 'God, I could have done this better.'"

Ouch. Yeah, that's stuck with me. (And on some level, I still think it's true.)

The basis for every sermon and instruction I've ever received against complaining has been founded in two things:

1. Look what happened to the Israelites when they grumbled and complained.

2. Philippians 2:14, "Do everything without grumbling or arguing." Usually added: Emphasis, everything.

So, when this man starts telling us we should have the freedom to complain to our spouses and that the lack of that freedom statistically results in divorce because of the breakdown in communication, my knee-jerk reaction was that this teaching was unbiblical.

Then, he quoted Philippians 2:14. I was like, wait, wait...what? I looked it up. He quoted the King James Version which says: "Do all things without murmurings or disputings."

It still Murmuring isn't quite the same as complaining, so this was enough discrepancy to drive me to a Strong's Concordance. What I found there blew me away. It convicted me. We'll get to that.

First, I should say that after I realized what the verse was actually saying, after all these years, it freed me up to really hear what this man was saying. He wasn't talking about a constant negative attitude and outlook. He wasn't talking about nagging. He was talking about something that I do believe is crucial in marriage/relationship communication-- I just would have phrased it differently. Healthy relationships must have a clear avenue for either person to say, "This is bothering me," "This hurt me," "This scares me," about any situation.

Two definitions of "complain" from include: "to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure,resentment, or grief; find fault:...
to tell of one's pains, ailments, etc." and the synonyms dictionary further defines complaining (vs. grumbling or growling) as "to protest against or lament a wrong."

Marriage needs that communication. Friendship needs that. I need to be able to tell Adam that I'm not feeling well, or that a situation still bothers me, or that I'm emotionally wounded. And I have-- sometimes too much!-- but I've always felt guilty about it.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't be complaining," I often tag on. He usually reassures me that it's fine, but I'm haunted by Philippians 2:14 nonetheless.

No more. And yet still.

Here is why I was convicted about that verse. Look up "murmurings" in Strong's, and this is what you'll find:

The word is "goggysmos" transliterated. It appears four times-- only four-- in the entire New Testament. It means:

"(1) a murmur, murmuring, muttering
(a) a secret debate
(b) a secret displeasure not openly avowed"

Oh, man, that hit me like a Mack truck. All this time, the verse means almost the opposite of what I thought. I mean, I should have figured, since God caring more about the inward man is sorta a theme of the, well, entire Bible.

Disclaimer: I'm still not okay with negative, pessimistic attitudes and words. There's a difference between complaining to God or a spouse of a real hurt and whining about everything.

That said.


"A secret displeasure not openly avowed," is kind of a big deal.

How many times have I bitten my tongue and kept from whining about doing a job, or taking care of somebody, or serving someone, or dealing with an unpleasant situation, and then become bitter and angry and resentful in my heart?

Oh, that's a dangerous place. Because then my flesh is cheering me on, "Oh, look at you! What a sacrifice! You're not COMPLAINING."

You wanna know the other three places this shows up in the New Testament?

John 7:12, when the Jews are having muttered arguments about who Jesus says He is, but they don't ask him directly. It causes division. That verse lays out a pretty clear line they were falling on either side of.

Acts 6:1, when the Greeks were murmuring among themselves that their widows were being neglected whenever the Jews handled charity work, instead of confronting them in love and lodging a complaint. It created division.

And finally, 1 Peter 4:9 (KJV), which I'm including in full: "Use hospitality one to another without grudging."

A "secret displeasure not openly avowed."

Have you ever been the guest at a house where even though no one was complaining, even though everyone was being polite and saying the right things, you could just tell you weren't wanted? What about the other person in the room in your own home? And you can just feel how much your spouse or child doesn't want you there in that moment?

Oh, man. I told Adam last night, "Sometimes we think hospitality is just for strangers, but it's not. That's part of it. But I have to be hospitable to close family-- the people I live with. I'm serving them, too."

And how often have, instead of feeling awkward, I've been the one making dinner or doing laundry or cleaning up dog pee or straightening up a room at church, and keeping my mouth shut but just murmuring inside of me? I take what should be the joy of service in the example of Christ, and turn it into my own little pity-party. I grow bitter towards others, angry that my rights, my time, my dignity, my needs are being trampled on.

I'm ashamed to admit how often I've treasured and coddled and nursed and loved those "secret displeasure[s] not openly avowed."

And do you know what it does? Rather than me preserving the peace by keeping my mouth shut, my attitude and behavior and SILENT TREATMENT of something is creating division. The other thing the Sunday school teacher said about words is that, "Good words create a paradise, no words create a wasteland, a desert, and bad words create something worse."

I have created that wasteland in my home, in my relationships, in my witnessing opportunities, far too many times.

This is not license to complain (read: whine) every time I'm uncomfortable.

This is a reminder not to indulge. If I'm having a hard time serving with a joyful heart, my heart needs some readjustment, and that requires taking that very-same "deceitful, treacherous" heart to the Throne of God. I need the grace of God to serve in truthful love.

It might mean a little bit of complaining needs to happen. A little bit of being honest instead of proud. "God, I'm tired," or "I don't feel well," or "I still haven't forgiven him for hurting my feelings," and "I need your help to love the way You love."

I need grace to serve. I need grace to change, to grow.

And it's time to stop murmuring. That's not me "processing" something or "working through" something-- there's a time and a place for those things, but too long have I indulged my murmuring heart and called it something else to make me feel better.

It ends.