To Vent or Not to Vent

April 9, 2024 0 By Mirm

So, I think I have crossed the line from venting to complaining! Why else would I be processing which I am doing? I think there is an internal gauge that knows the difference between sharing frustration and being mad about or at that situation/person. Perhaps it is human nature to see things from a selfish vantage point. Maybe it is just our sin nature that wants to throw shade; ever since the garden of Eden we have been playing that game!

I am thinking about my heart attitude these days. I want to be a person who sees the best in others and who gives grace. I want to always see the glass as half full and I don’t want to be someone that is avoided because I am cross, cranky or a  gossip. May others not worry that I am going to whine about them because all they do is hear me whine about others.

While I know there is a difference between venting and complaining, I know I have done too much of both – especially in recent days. It sort of feeds itself until I do not like the person I am in the moment.  Last night I realized that I had crossed a line from okay to not okay. Maybe others gave me grace and didn’t hear it but I know my heart.

What does the Bible say about venting? What does it say about whining and complaining? Are they all the same thing? IS it just semantics? My desire is to be mindful of my heart’s reaction to tough situations. And I am missing my partner who held me accountable and could hear my heart and challenge me with the truth. I miss him. Both venting and complaining are best done with trusted people who understand who we are and won’t hold us responsible for everything we said in those heated moments. I don’t often have that anymore so I just dump all the time and in inappropriate ways.  I need forgiveness and a bar of soap constantly. One of the best things about my siblings is that they know me and love me and they have been my safe place my whole life but especially since 2010. One of the best things about moving in with my brother and his wife is that I am not isolated and alone and they allow me to vent and even complain. I am so grateful.

So how do I express frustrations to those closest to me, how do I bear another’s burdens, without falling into the ‘misery loves company’ mentality? Is there a difference between complaining and venting? Obviously, a question like this cannot be answered without definitions. One cannot defend or condemn a word like whining or venting until the reality of what the words mean.

Venting comes from the idea of providing an outlet for air, liquid, or steam. It is a lament about how hard things are. It states frustration about a situation without blame or accusation. Venting can be a harmless way to process built-up passion over an event or conversation. Venting can allow me to calm down and return to rational thought.

When I think of whining or complaining I guess I think of it as venting on steroids. It is like the dripping of a faucet or the annoying sniffing people do instead of blowing their nose. It moves from sharing a frustration to finding someone to blame for that situation. It is expressing dissatisfaction about a circumstance and holding someone else responsible for that dissatisfaction. And it usually is repetitious and void of grace. It is talking negatively A LOT and about the same stuff without doing anything to try and improve the situation. Whining for its own sake. But I think it also goes beyond that as it often includes blaming or the intent to demean someone. It puts a person down, making them “less than”.

The new thought is that both complaining and venting can be sinful. And both might not be! Interesting! It is possible to vent, to express great dissatisfaction and draw attention to the person who causes that without sinning! Paul told Timothy that he was unhappy with the situation in Crete and he identified the guilty (Titus 1). He even told Timothy what to do about it. He was venting and not sinning – at least from this vantage point.

On the other hand, it is possible to so-called “vent” and express dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances without pointing the finger at anybody and yet be sinning, because there are more ways to sin than by blaming other people for one’s problems. Perhaps it is a sin to simmer with frustration over circumstances or to worry. It’s a sign of underlying lack of faith in the goodness and wisdom of God, a sign that one hasn’t yet learned the secret of contentment in the strength and fellowship of Christ, in spite of present difficulty.

Similarly, I think when we complain by expressing sorrow or grief over something it is not sin. There are several people and places in scripture where God is questioned, where there is lament and frustration but no sin. Even God complained about the chosen people with Moses and we know He didn’t sin. But when whining and complaining takes the form of fault-finding, grumbling, murmuring, and griping there is definitely not an expression of the fruit of the Spirit! In fact I find it detrimental to my joy and peace.

Here is my other thought about all of this – and I am not sure I see the answer clearly yet – but when I say anything negative about any situation or person I want to make sure that my final words are about the goodness of God in the midst of my hard circumstances. He has dealt me this hand. He knows what is best for me and He has my best interests at heart. He is good and loving and wise. No matter what else I feel, I can have a posture of gratitude and contentment and faith. Like Mary who was a willing servant, and like Paul who had learned to be content in every circumstance, may I learn to vent more carefully and without ever dishonoring the Lord or the people with whom I am frustrated. I never want venting to become a pastime a permanent lifestyle rather than a temporary release.

What is my posture as I complain or vent?  Do I have a deep, settled faith in the all-wise, all-good providence of God that gives me an unshakable contentment in Him beneath all dissatisfactions? Second, in expressing my dissatisfactions, am I speaking from a hatred of sin, a passion for God’s glory, and a love for people? Or am I just wrapped up in my own myopic perspective? Am I venting in healthy ways, bringing good out of something bad? Big plot twist for my life story.

I am reminded of the PERT (which was a popular brand of Shampoo in the olden days) plan – the only shampoo for the mind – Philippians 4:8 – Whatever is Pure, Excellent, Right, True, Praiseworthy, Lovely, Admirable, Noble  – think about these things…and change my focus, my perspective and my mind…

PS And on a side note: Literature, art, and music are ways to vent that can lead to beauty, wisdom, and worship.