Are We Complaining Too Much?


Authenticity. It’s a big buzzword today, popular among millennials, pastors to millennials, mom bloggers, and . . . missionaries. Sharing shortcomings and struggles has many benefits, not the least of which is showing other imperfect people that they’re not alone.

But where that sharing grows and grows, there is bound to be pushback. One person’s honesty is another person’s whining. One person’s transparency is another’s self-centeredness. One person’s telling it like it is is another’s pity party. One person’s authenticity is another’s complaining.

So, are we complaining too much?

I think about that quite a bit. I believe it’s important to share openly and honestly, but when I get ready to do just that, Philippians 2:14 often comes to mind. Actually, it’s not the verse itself but the children’s song based on it: “Do everything without complaining / Do everything without arguing / So that you may become blameless and pure children of God.”

Maybe it’s not enough to ask, Are we complaining too much? Can we, in fact, complain at all?

According to many Bible translators, when Paul tells us not to “complain,” he’s actually warning against grumbling, murmuring, bickering (The Message), and—my favorite—kvetching (The Complete Jewish Bible). To me, those carry a decidedly more negative connotation, and it’s this kind of ill-tempered muttering that I see angering God in the Bible.

Our word complain, though, isn’t always bad. Rather, it depends on how and why we voice our concerns. Yes, no one wants to be labeled a complainer, and a popular eulogy is “Through it all, she never once complained.” But when a patient complains of chest pain, doctors consider that a good and necessary thing. How else can they give the hurting the treatment they need?

In fact, I’d like to redeem the meaning of complain somewhat. Coming from an Old French word meaning “lament,” its Latin root, plangere, means literally “to beat one’s breast.” Lamenting. Beating one’s breast. Don’t we see that in the Bible—lamenting for self and community? Don’t people lament in the Old Testament? Don’t we have a book titled Lamentations? Don’t we hear lamenting in the Psalms? Didn’t Paul, didn’t Jesus, lament?

Are we complaining too much? No, I think not, at least not yet. And here’s why I think we have a ways to go before we get there.

For too long, the church has put missionaries on precariously high pedestals, and because of the continued pressures to raise funds and promote ministries, missionaries can find themselves taking part in the pedestal building, as well. It will take a while for us, with repeated reminders, to dismantle the platforms.

Living overseas can be very difficult, and we need more, not less, authenticity so that others who are struggling won’t have to say, “I must be the only one.” Transparent sharing also helps future missionaries have realistic expectations so that they can better prepare for future challenges and fend off disappointment.

The transitions of cross-cultural life involve loss, which leads to sorrow. This sorrow is real, but how many times have I heard someone preface their expressions of grief with “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but. . .”? Missionaries tend to be a conscientious lot, and they’re well-versed in verses stressing self-denial. Thus they are prone to guilt when speaking of their problems: “Others have it so much worse than I do.” But when sorrow remains hidden, when it is disenfranchised because of those around us or because of our own shame, it can morph deep inside us into depression or rise to the surface as anger. Simply not voicing it doesn’t make it go away.

And while our honest lamenting does not tell the entire story, it is part of that story. Some day when the definitive book on missionary life is written, the whole volume won’t be titled It’s Tough, but at least one very important chapter will be. This is actually where I think a big problem comes in. We too often want every part of the story to represent the whole story, with a beginning and an end, with a problem and a resolution. But with such requirements, we silence those who need to speak while their stories are unfolding.

I think of Psalm 88, a psalm of lament that reveals no happy ending. Rather, its final words are “You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend” (NIV). I am comforted to know that this psalm is part of scripture. Psalm 13, on the other hand, begins with “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” but then ends with “I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (NIV). But I have to wonder about the blank space, the empty line, between verse four and verse five, where the change occurs. Many are living in that space right now, and I can hear them saying, “Yea, though I walk through the valley between verses.” How long did it take David to come to the place where he could voice those hopeful words, and finish writing the psalm? Or if he could say them even in his despair, how long did it take for him to truly feel them in his heart? Can we share our stories before we get to the other side?

Having said all that, I do understand that we need to be careful in our authenticity.

In today’s world, we have the ability to share in real time, through blogs and any number of instant-messaging platforms. This is a double-edged sword, and there’s certainly room for a healthy hesitancy. Not every frustration needs to be expressed publicly and immediately. Not every complaint needs to be posted or published. Not every lament needs to be spoken from a pulpit (though some very much do).

Sometimes it’s best for us to confide in a safe person, face to face. Sometimes, we need to share in a small group or closed forum, where outsiders will not overhear and misinterpret our most raw feelings, but where insiders will understand.

And, yes, we do need to watch our attitudes. Job complained, but he didn’t curse God. In our anger and sorrow, we should not sin. And as Paul writes, we shouldn’t gripe or grumble or bicker or kvetch.

Also, while there are many commonalities among members of the mission community, my experiences will not always match yours. Therefore, I should avoid claiming to represent everyone else. Likewise, I shouldn’t be so convinced of my own perspective that I discount others who have a rosier view than me. Just because others tell happy stories doesn’t mean that they’re hiding something.

No matter the cautions, though, honest lamenting is messy. It is and always will be. Thank you, Lord, for your patience. Missionaries are people, too, and amongst the authenticity, there will be some negativity, whining, self-centeredness, and a pity party or two. When that happens, let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to leave angry comments. Let’s listen with grace.

In the not-so-distant future, we may look back on this time and say (with our hands forming air quotes), “Remember when it was all about ‘being authentic and vulnerable,’ ‘sharing your story,’ and ‘being real’?” Maybe by then we’ll have new buzzwords for the same things. But my hope is that, instead, we’ll simply talk about—and practice—honesty and empathy and sincerity. I’m pretty sure those never go out of style.

[photo: “Frustration,” by Jason Bolonski, used under a Creative Commons license]

How to be a Real Missionary

Wonder woman

My first attempt at overseas missions was a rather spur of the moment decision. As I made plans to drop out of college and get an apartment with my best friend, Dad showed me the website of a medical mission in Africa and suggested I give it a try. So I did. I didn’t think about training, or have any idea of how long I’d serve. I just went.

Side Note: Although I served for 2+ years with that mission, I still didn’t consider myself a real missionary. I just dabbled in a life others spent decades in.

My next missionary attempt included nine years of preparation. From the start, my husband and I carefully considered training options and aimed for long-term service. This time I would finally be a real missionary. We joined an aviation mission and moved overseas again.

In those years of preparation, I began to develop a sense of what kind of missionary I wanted to be. I wouldn’t be like those missionaries, you know – the ones who might stay forever, but never really connect with the people or the culture. I would be a real missionary, you know – like Amy Carmichael (55 years in India without a furlough), Hudson Taylor (the man got huge results), Shane Claiborne (made the vow of poverty cool), Don Richardson (that clever ‘redemptive analogies’ guy), and Elisabeth Elliot (missionary to her husband’s murderers).

The trouble was, I couldn’t do it.

Truth: The only thing you need to do to be a real missionary, is to be a real person.

To be a real missionary, you don’t need to stay overseas for decades without a break. You don’t need to take a vow of poverty. You don’t need to start hundreds of projects. You don’t need to write books. You don’t even need huge results.

But I should tell you (and this is really important): you have to learn to be a missionary as the person that you are, not as the person you wish to be.

You are not too young or too old, too extroverted or too introverted, too technically minded or too artsy, too busy with a family or too single. It’s just you – and you are who you are.

Side Note: I really wanted to be an extrovert missionary. I’m not an extrovert. I failed in this. It’s ok though. God uses introverts too.

The whole of you becomes a missionary, not just the part that fits the job description. Your life experiences, your hang-ups, your sense of humor, your world view, your fitness level, your hopes and dreams – all of you, not a bit gets left out.

The real missionary is the person who takes all of who they are and willingly offers it back to the Lord. It’s not about striving to become a missionary, but willingly and joyfully surrendering who you actually, truthfully, really are.

Those other missionaries? The ones whose stories amaze and inspire? They are more like guides. Your own specific missions path is God’s to reveal, but you can still learn from theirs. You learn from their mistakes, successes, joys, and frustrations – but they do not define who you are.

Side Note: Corrie ten Boom is one of my heroes. I read her stories of simple acts of courage in Nazi-occupied Holland, her time in a concentration camp, and her incredible work in forgiveness and extending love to enemies. I’m inspired! I long to see that kind of fruit in my own life! Except… “God, It’s cool if you use me like Corrie, but can we just skip the whole concentration camp part?” Often I want the results of someone’s life, but not the suffering it took to get there.

Truth: You don’t have to be someone else, even if they are really cool. God’s got loads of good works prepared for you – yes, you!

What ultimately matters is that you are good clay. All the training, programs, aspirations, and strategies in the world don’t matter if you aren’t willing and pliable in God’s hands.

So you want to be a real missionary? Take a good look inside. With heart and hands wide open, offer yourself to the Lord.

“God, It’s me – just me. I’m not sure how you can use me, but I am willing.
Whatever you have in mind, I’m all in.”

Once you’ve laid it all out there, freed up from expectations and comparison, you can be who you really want to be – God’s own. Loved and loving others.

Jumping Off the Pedestal


I live in fear of disappointing people. Supporters, our church, our organization, family, friends.

I know how messy my life is, I know the things I struggle with, I know where I stumble, I know how often I mess things up, and now I worry others will know too.

I have always been a pretty transparent person. I am a wholehearted believer in being who you are and being real. I have never really had an issue with pretending to be someone I am not. I usually openly admit to my mistakes and the issues I have; I am fairly aware of my poor habits and sin. I have a sweet husband who shows me areas of my life I need to work on, and he does it in a gentle way, even if I am sassy when he’s telling me.

But, I have never been put on a pedestal for being an “exceptionally good person.” Given the line of work my husband and I chose to enter about two years ago, we are now the recipients of undue praise and adoration for our “sacrifice” and “service.”

It’s a weird feeling. I don’t like it. It makes me feel like I have to pretend to be someone I am not in order to live up to their lofty idea of who I am. My default being in this position is to hide my sin, shove the issues I have aside, and not disappoint the people who now use me as a “great example” of a follower.

It started out okay. It was just at church where people would come and shake my hand and commend me for the work we are doing. Now, every single person in our lives: distant friends, former coworkers, and long-lost relatives are coming out of the woodwork to be encouraging and supportive. I love the support and encouragement, and we definitely need it. However, we now receive praise and adoration from most people in our lives. Somehow, what we chose to do makes us amazing people. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I was just willing, not exceptional. I didn’t want to go, I tried not to go, I resented going and was reluctant for a long time even after conceding.

Basically, not an awesome person at all. I would tell every single person the exact same beginning if I had the opportunity, but I don’t get the chance to tell that to everyone. So it leads to a disproportionate amount of amazement and revere for our decision. If they only knew I was on the losing end of an argument with God.  I was never going to win, because His plans will always succeed over mine, and I am grateful for that to be the case. I never want to be outside of God’s will, and that’s why we are overseas. His will was for us to be here, so here we are.

Now, back to the issue of trying not to be fake, while at the same time trying not to disappoint. I didn’t give the fear of disappointment much thought until my husband and I had a huge argument one evening. I wanted to call and chat with my close friends and family, but then I was overwhelmed with this huge sense of fear of letting them down. I want to be who they think I am, but I am not. I am stuck in this reality where everyone thinks I am someone I am not, and I am trying to play catch up to be that person. Meanwhile, I still have all the same struggles, sin issues and bad habits. God is working those things out in me, but they weren’t immediately eradicated when we boarded our plane in San Francisco.

I am not sure how common fear of disappointment is for overseas workers, but for this girl it has become quite a hurdle.

I wonder what people would think if they knew what I am really like. I wonder if they would think I am even worthy to support or send. It’s so much pressure to live up to an unrealistic ideal of who I am suppose to be. I began to wonder if that’s why people leave the field with broken marriages, torn-apart lives, and messed-up families. Is it because these people were trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of who they are? Is it because they were trying to achieve an unattainable ideal?

I totally think that the fear of disappointing supporters, sending churches, organizations, friends and family could lead to shoving issues aside and not working through things that need to be dealt with. I think the pressure of trying to live up to what others think of you and trying to be worth the investment of time and resources people have poured into you, would cause you to sweep things under the rug and hope that nobody notices.

I think that pushing problems aside, not dealing with issues as they arise, and living under unrealistic expectations could produce a catastrophic event that forces you to leave the field brokenhearted. If we don’t work through hardship and complications as they come, those issues aren’t going to go away.

Just like life back in the States, we have to deal with marital lows and hardship. We have to work through tough family obstacles at times. We have to face stress and anxiety at work and figure out healthy ways to deal with it. We have to tackle difficult relationships and resolve them. Life isn’t easy back in our home countries and it’s definitely not easy in a foreign country.

After thinking about fear of disappointment and how it’s affecting my life and decisions, I decided it was time to be real. To be honest and genuine, to be the person I am, imperfections and all. I don’t want to lead a dishonest life, I don’t want to be adored (especially for someone I am not), and I want to be free from fear.

I want to be able to say things like: I almost got hit by a taxi crossing the street two days ago and yelled a bad word at the top of my lungs while jumping out of the way. I want to be able to argue with my husband and be incredibly ticked at him and feel free to share it with people close to me who love me and can encourage us to keep working at marriage, because it’s hard. I want to be accountable for who I am and not who other people think I am.

To the best of my ability I am going to shove aside the fear of disappointment. I will address the issues, deal with the hard stuff, and be okay with the idea of being knocked of my pedestal, because I shouldn’t be up there in first place.


Originally published here.

Kristin and her husband are experiencing life on the other side of the world, where traffic lights are suggestions and people are the friendliest. You can usually catch her with her mouth full of food or talking away with her newest friend. She is a California girl in the heart of South Asia and people often dub her as the tallest girl they have ever seen (she’s 5’10). She never wants people to feel alone and loves sharing and hearing about the adventures of following God wholeheartedly. You can read more about her at