When my kids wake up in the morning and complain about getting dressed for school, and the breakfast options I’ve offered, and the color of their lunch box, and the way their sister looked at them… I tell them to “stop whining.”

When my own heart is dissatisfied with how my pants fit or my husband’s work schedule, or the fact that I wasn’t invited to something… I tell myself to “stop having a pity party.”

But when our hearts are broken, sad, overwhelmed, and discouraged at the suffering of our loved one and the life changes required to care for them, should we still say “stop whining” to our tender hearts? Or is there another way to think about the brokenness we are experiencing?

I believe there is a real difference between whining and biblically complaining. Whining is what we do when our preferences aren’t being met. Biblical complaint is when we acknowledge the disconnect between the pain of our lived-in reality, and what we know is true of God’s character and his plan for redeeming our world.

Distinguishing the difference:

As caregivers, we often see some of the most heart-wrenching aspects of living east of Eden. We see bodies fail, minds disappear, and diagnosis define God’s image bearers. We observe limitations, pain, disappointment, and fear. We might endure financial hardships, medical bureaucracy, and predators wanting to sell our loved one’s miracle cures.

Being upset about these things is not whining. It’s our spirit crying out “it’s not meant to be this way!” It’s re-living Martha and Mary at the gravesite of Lazarus saying “Jesus, you could have stopped this! Why didn’t you come sooner? Why aren’t you answering our prayers the way we want?” (see John 11).

Whining is me focused. It digs deep roots into the soil of entitlement. It says, “I deserve better than this, so I’m disappointed in what I’m receiving.” The focus is on us and what we think God owes us. But God doesn’t owe us anything. And walking through caregiving with that attitude will only result in more heartache, bitterness, and distress.

Biblical complaint, on the other hand, is God focused. It starts not from a place of entitlement, but a place of faith. We trust that God is perfect, that his plans are loving, and that his ways are good. When we are faced with experiences where it is hard to reconcile those truths with what we see, then we go to God and “complain” – saying “this doesn’t make sense to me, things aren’t lining up the way my faith says they should.” And we humbly ask God to help us see things from his perspective instead.

Uncomfortable Territory:

When I think of complaining to God, I am okay with telling him why I’m upset with specific circumstances, but I get uncomfortable telling him why I’m upset with God himself. Yet, Scripture is full of examples of people being honest with God in just this way.

Whining throws darts at God’s character with no hope or expectation of resolution. God has let me down and I’m going to make sure he knows it. It’s vindictive and unsatisfying.

Biblical complaint allows us to tell God that we feel like he has let us down, all the while holding on to faith that our feelings aren’t the best gauge of reality.

For example, whining would say “God, you abandon people in their hour of need – you are not to be trusted.” Biblical complaint would say, “God, your word tells me that you are close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18, Isaiah 61:1), but right now I feel like you have abandoned me in my grief.”

Do you hear the difference? Whining to God will leave us feeling more isolated and farther from his grace; biblical complaint pulls us closer to God as we remember what is true while acknowledging what we are experiencing in that moment of pain.

An Example of Biblical Complaint:

In The Waiting Room by Elizabeth Turnage, she has a chapter called “Count your losses”, where she points us to Asaph and his words in Psalm 77. He begins by crying out to God in his grief:

“I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.”

He goes on to say that his sorrow is so great that he can’t sleep, he can’t speak, and his spirit is faint with moaning. But he is not whining about his lack of sleep, he’s simply stating this as a fact of his experience. Then he immediately decides to make a “diligent search (vs. 6) of the Lord’s character and goes on to say:

 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

As he ponders these deep heart questions, he concludes that the answer is a resounding, “No!” It may feel like God will never again show you favor, or that his love has ceased, or that he has forgotten to be gracious, but when we remember the deeds of the Lord and what we know of him from his Word, our hearts are recalibrated. Asaph goes on to say,

I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?”

Elizabeth writes: “As we tally our tears, we discover a compassionate God who is counting them right alongside us. The same God who counts our tears sent his Son Jesus to weep human tears for and with us. The same God who counts our tears will one day wipe every one away when Jesus returns to restore all broken things” (p.188).

Ultimately, biblical complaint takes us to the feet of Jesus. By honestly expressing our sorrows, and remembering the goodness of God, we align our hearts back to the hope of the gospel. We are weak, but God is strong. We can’t fix all that is broken, but God can and has and will. May you be encouraged that you can take your concerns to God in a way that will grow your faith and increase your assurance of God’s love.

Read more in this caregiving series by clicking here.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Marissa Bondurant

Marissa, her husband Rob and their four girls are members of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, TX. Having walked through childhood cancer with her second daughter, Marissa now writes to encourage others with the hope of the gospel and equip people to serve their suffering friends. She is the author of “Who Cares for You?”: a 4-week Bible study for caregivers. You can find more encouragement at her website and on IG (@marissa.bondurant). When she’s not writing, wrangling her strong-willed girls, or keeping up with Rob’s endless energy – she can be found water coloring, walking with friends, or just reading a book in peace.