Sometimes, I’m a willing passenger. But most of the time, I promote myself all the way up to chief engineer.
I’m talking about the Complain Train that I frequently find myself on. Let me tell you, last night I was definitely the chief engineer, taking the lead and steering my complain train all over the place, not stopping for anything or anybody, spewing complaints left and right.
How I relish my role as engineer of the Complain Train! Look out world—like it or not, this train is coming through! I say. Complaining makes me feel validated. And heard. And it gives me an opportunity to let off some steam, much like the Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza establishes a holiday (“Festivus”) where one of the main activities is the “Airing of Grievances,” (i.e. “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”).
Except the Complain Train is a train bound for nowhere (isn’t that a song?). It has no triumphant ending, no satisfying resolution. There’s no pulling into a station with a great sigh of relief and feeling of accomplishment. The Complain Train is nothing but an unproductive, herky-jerky, never-ending ride through Frustrationville, Crabby Corners and Waste-of-Time Town. It’s a fruitless journey.
And that doesn’t take into consideration what this harmful habit does to the state of my soul.
Because Sistas, here’s the truth about complaining: It steals my joy. It brings down the people around me. And it does absolutely nothing to change my circumstances. In fact, verbally flinging all that unhappiness into the atmosphere “boomerangs” the words right back into my brain and magnifies them even more. When we complain, the problems often become bigger, not smaller, especially when we aren’t really in the mood to look for solutions to those problems. Sound familiar? **raises hand**
I don’t purposely summon the Complain Train. I don’t seek it out or buy tickets in advance. It just seems to show up and I simply hop on with no hesitation. I don’t even think about it, I just get on and go. Not good.
I need to figure out how to permanently derail this train. What better time than the start of a new year, right?
In 2018, I hereby resolve to:
- Pray to be more mindful of what triggers my complaints. When I become more aware of the situations (and people?) that compel me to climb aboard the Complain Train, I can pause and reframe the situation in a more objective (and at the same time probably a more merciful) manner. If my pet peeve is standing in a long checkout line, I can put myself in the shoes of the unfortunate cashier who is not in charge of staffing but who probably wishes she was. “Poor me” soon becomes “Oh, that poor thing!”
- Pray to speak only positive, encouraging words about people and to people. This can cut down on both complaining and its close cousin, gossip.
- Practice counting my blessings and developing a habit of deep gratitude that simply overwhelms any impulse to complain.
- Pray for others more often and more fervently. By focusing on the intentions of others, I am less likely to shine a spotlight on my own concerns.
- Serve others less fortunate than I am. It’s a fact that on days when I get to serve as a hospice volunteer, I do not find myself anywhere near the Complain Train.
- If I truly need to vent, I can choose to use my prayer journal to outline the problem and prayerfully seek the solution. Jesus is big enough to handle my complaints and loves me enough not to keep me wallowing there.
- Just flat-out hold my tongue. Like my mom used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” And, more powerfully, as St. John of the Cross instructs us: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Boom.
Goodbye, Complain Train. This passenger is ready to disembark and hang up my chief engineer hat for good. Or better yet, maybe I’ll look for a Mercy and Forgiveness Train—All Aboard!