On Whining, Venting, and Bearing One Another's Burdens…

012910-shutupA few years ago, during a time of fellowship in our home, there were about a dozen of us chatting and such before the “bible study.”  A young man had asked if he could share something that was on his heart, and of course, we all encouraged him to do so.  He began to share the testimony of where he came from, his mother’s death, his father’s abandonment, and his difficulties in growing as a Christian.  It was deeply moving.  But, there was a problem… 

You see, he didn’t know how to express himself very well, and from my standpoint, he was taken up too much time.  I wanted him to  “get to the point.”  There was, after all, a bible study to conduct.  My patience wore thin and my anger grew.  I’m not sure exactly what erupted from my mouth, but it was something like “WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET TO THE POINT OF WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO SAY???”

It was then a fellow pastor, one of the most humble ones I know, looked at me with this penetrating sort of sadness and said, “Brother Miguel, don’t you think that Jesus wants us to bear one another’s burdens?” (Galatians 6:2)  OUCH!  I’ve been rebuked before, but this was something different, something powerful, and something that brought instant repentance.

I’ll admit that I’m not a very good listener.  I like brevity.  I’m not a talking for talking’s sake kinda guy.  I love twitter!  140 characters to say what you’ve got to say and get out.  Sometimes I wish that people could only speak tweets.  After all, proverbs says, “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (Proverbs 10:19)  It’s Holy to be a man of few words, isn’t it? I mean, people shouldn’t be allowed to whine and vent ad infinitum, should they? 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” ~ Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. 

You might have to go back and read that a couple of times in order for it to soak in.

The scriptures say, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (James 1:19)  Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? 

David Hayward, AKA “nakedpastor,” recently said, “some people might choose to be angry their whole lives. It’s their right to be. They can be angry for as long as they feel they need. But I have also seen, when people are given the right, the space and the opportunity to vent, that in time they find room to forgive and move on.”[1]

Some extend or multiply their words because of hurt, others because they feel as if they don’t have a voice, or just aren’t listened to.  On the other hand, there are folks who simply talk too much and are always saying the wrong things.  Regardless, it seems that whining or venting is something that followers of Christ should not try to squelch.  Or should they?

A few questions:

1.  When, if ever, is it appropriate to stop someone from whining or venting?

2.  Is there a Christlike way to whine and vent?

3.  How do you personally balance the proclamation of the gospel and genuinely listening to people?

[1] Richard Clark and the Preemption of Anger Blog Post




0 thoughts on “On Whining, Venting, and Bearing One Another's Burdens…

  1. Carlos says:

    Hi Miguel,

    I appreciate your humility in…well…admitting here that you were a bit…shall we say…impatient with the brother in question so that the study (presumably your study perhaps) could get on.

    That’s swell of you. I always respect and admire such humility bro.

    As for how I deal with such things…well…since I am not involved in leading a study or otherwise feel a need to get on with the show (so to speak) in any Christian setting I…well…I don’t really encounter the problem you bring up much if at all.

    Now I DO otherwise encounter people who talk too much but not as in unburdening themselves. Rather more often it’s an encounter with people who simply don’t listen and just want to talk and talk and talk and talk some more. A completely self-centered person.

    I even know a fellow who keeps on talking even after I turn away to talk to someone else while we are all sitting at the same table!! It’s quite funny (or sad I suppose). He is a great guy and I have flat out told him at times that he seems to be lacking in the area of social graces in the sense that he keeps on talking even when there is no one listening to him directly. He knows that he does that and that it’s a problem. The way I deal with him is I just turn away when the conversation has run it’s course to talk to someone else and let him continue to talk as if just talking to himself. He is okay with that. I am okay with that. And so we continue to be ourselves without hurt feelings.

    In cases where I bump into someone that just talks and talks and talks and where it’s just me and them…I will just come out and say something like…”Let me know when you are done so that I can say something.” or “Can I say something?” or “I don’t want this to be a one sided conversation…can I say something?”.

    I really do talk that way to others if they are talking excessively without letting me say anything.

    It works.

    In rare cases where it’s really bad I just simply announce that I will be walking away and then I do. Nothing personal I say but since I am not getting a chance to say anything I will just simply walk away until another day.

    We have to be frank with such folks I think. Half the time they are so used to getting their way that they lose touch with how out of touch they are.

    Again…I am NOT referring to someone unloading their heart burden on me as a brother. That’s different.

    But even then though, depending on the context, I might say something like “Bro…do you mind if we talk about this more later as I want to ?” That works too. Nobody walks away hurt. I say what I would rather do while leaving the door open to further communication and the person (at least usually) does not feel that what they have to say is unimportant to me.

    I hope that makes sense.

    In all cases I don’t think it’s healthy at all for me, nor in line with Christlike love, to suppress a desire to do something else than to just listen to endless talking (unless I want to do that).


  2. Carlos says:

    Oops..one of my sentences was cut off by your software.

    I meant to say “Do you mind if we talk about that later as I want …interject whatever else I want to do here…?”


  3. Tom Schultz says:

    Ouch! It is so easy to be thinking up the response instead of listening…and then when that response is all organized and ready to be delivered, becoming impatient if the person is still talking. “Bearing one another’s burdens” is supposed to be more abstract than listening to their whole boring lives…NOT.

    On the other hand I find it particularly annoying when a leader cannot edit himself and say things concisely. This malady seems to be most common at the end of a sermon. The points have been made and the illustrations delivered and still the mouth moves. Often it is under the cover of prayer…giving God a rehash of the sermon in case He missed something…or searching for emotional strings to pull to get a response from the audience.

    Hearing a person who needs to talk out his needs is quite different from patiently enduring a preacher who can’t stop…perhaps we should try the “Shutup” interruption then!

  4. Thanks for diving in to this important topic!
    1) There is a sensitive, loving way to interrupt someone (between sentences), summarize what they’ve said, and redirect the conversation with powerful questions.
    2) The Psalms and the Gospels both give beautiful examples of the Christlike way to lament. I think the key is not censoring or editing our lament, but lamenting to the right person. The psalms of lament are directed straight at God, and Jesus models this too. In my experience it’s the least destructive and most beneficial way to vent.
    3) My work is all about equipping people to listen to God and each other, so I may be biased, but I don’t think there’s a dichotomy here. Listening is the primary means that Jesus used to connect with unbelievers and ultimately share the good news of the kingdom with them. If we want to partner with God and extend his kingdom, listening is the first step.

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