Do therapy groups exist for grumblers? Alcoholics Anonymous is a well-known program of support, but I don’t think Grumblers Anonymous is a thing.
Does this indifference reflect the fact that grumbling, complaining and bellyaching are rarely witnessed in our world? Is it that grumbling spawns no physical or psychological ill effects? Certainly not. I suspect the reason is that grumbling is so systemic to the human experience as to hardly attract notice. It seems as natural and necessary as blowing one’s nose.
For that matter, who’s complaining about complaining, anyway? Bellyaching is no crime. Complaining causes no harm. Grumbling is no sin, to be sure. So who on Earth cares?
By way of qualification, it is certainly necessary to air legitimate concerns. We must at times object to circumstances, decry unjust laws and policies, call out corrupt leaders and contend against harmful ideas. The species of discontent we channel toward positive change does not typically qualify as grumbling.
Grumbling expresses discontent with what we cannot change or have no right to. It is complaining that scowls and whines simply because if feels good to do so, given the circumstances. Grumbling is a means by which to lash out against authority, complain about circumstances, glower in self-pity, object to people who do, say, or believe what we find detestable, or in some other way to vent discontent.
Grumbling may appear on someone’s “I have the right; leave me alone” list, but it is unlikely to appear on anyone’s list of virtues. We like to grumble. We don’t like it nearly so much when others do. But is complaining a vice or a morally neutral, blow-one’s-nose sort of habit?
The answer depends on your view of why life is what it is. If you draw your conclusions from a secularist or atheistic perspective, life just stinks sometimes. There is no ultimate reason for anything that happens. Survival is as much a reason as may be posited for why life unfolds as it does.
So grumble as much as you and others around you can stomach. It makes no difference (although you may want to check that conclusion against your medical doctor’s opinion and seek a close friend’s assessment of how endearing they find your grumbling).
For the theist who believes in a supreme god of some sort, grumbling takes on a different hue. This is particularly true of believers who serve the sovereign Lord who providentially works all things together for his glory and for the good of his people (Isaiah 45:5-7; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11).
From this perspective, complaining and grumbling constitute some degree of moral resistance, if not insurrection, in that our problem is never ultimately with the unfair, frustrating, inconvenient or discouraging circumstances themselves. Our problem is with the God who permits those difficult people or troublesome circumstances to disrupt our lives. In so many words, our grumbling announces that God is not good, although he is (Psalm 84:11; James 1:17).
This means, then, that grumbling is never just about grumbling. A complaining spirit reveals the spiritual condition of my heart. Grumbling reveals that I’m failing to see God for who he is.
As God revealed his nature to ancient Israel, grumbling proved a major roadblock in Israel’s spiritual awareness. God delivered the nation from bondage in Egypt by means of 10 miraculous plagues that left Egypt wrecked and Israel free. God continued to miraculously provide for the nation in the wilderness of Sinai and Paran as he shepherded them toward the land he promised to give them.
But Israel found the accommodations of their makeshift encampments in the wilderness unacceptable and complained to the management.
After all he had done, despite all he had promised he would do, Israel deigned to charge God with doing them wrong (Number 11:1). They even conjured the audacity to complain that life was better under Egyptian slavery. Soon, their grumbling approached mudslide proportions — careening toward the suffocation of all joy and the erasure of all reason (Numbers 11:2-5).
Among other lessons, Israel’s experience warns us against fueling complaint with sanitized memories. Grumblers love to look backwards to a day when things were better. In doing so, their complaining spirit airbrushes that picture so that it looks better than it was.
Israel languished under harsh Egyptian rule and pleaded for God’s deliverance (Exod 2:23-25). But under the deprivations of the wilderness, nostalgia scrubbed their memories. Then, in a sleight of hand, they read their present trials in the comparative light of that imaginary past (Numbers 11:4-6; 20:3-5).
Whatever the scheme, we must know that God takes grumbling seriously. He also offers to grumblers grace and forgiveness as they seek it in him (John 3:14-16), rejoicing to turn our natural grumblings into joyful praise (Romans 8:18-30; 11:33-36).