I do acknowledge that sometimes we need to talk things out. Sometimes, we need to share our emotions, even raw ones, to sort through them and to get a handle on appropriate next steps. But simply venting, letting off steam, spewing out the bile that afflicts us, is not the same.
I grew up in a home where we were often quick to speak (and maybe slower to think about the implications of what we said). That tendency still plagues me today to the detriment of those I love the most. I do not blame my family of origin for my quickness to shoot off my mouth – it’s been 35 years since I lived at home, and I don’t observe the same behavior among my siblings. And I’ve made a lot of progress in this regard in the last decade of my life, much to the benefit of those I love the most. But I have a long way to go.
In the end, it’s a good thing for us to learn not to say everything that pops into our head.
For instance, I love my ward’s Gospel Doctrine teacher. He prepares well. He’s faithful and he leads a good discussion. But once in a while he says something I find a little goofy. (I’m sure people find some of what I say goofy when I teach, too.) I learned some time ago that the time for me to discuss my feelings about anything goofy said by my Gospel Doctrine teacher is NOT in the car on the way home from church. My lovely wife (who is as charitable as the day is long, and then some) is not interested in my complaints about the Gospel Doctrine lesson. Further, she doesn’t want me to give my teenage son any more ammunition than he can manufacture for himself to complain about his classes. (I remember the first time I heard one of my kids parrot back a complaint about one of their teachers that I made about mine. Yikes. Way to follow my example, kids.)
I have heard others offer critiques about sacrament meeting talks, firesides, directions from the bishop. At some point this “venting” is not only unpleasant, but it’s destructive.
So, what to do when something happens I don’t like? Hmm. I can think of three possibilities that are better than kvetching about it:
1. Forget about it. This is by far the best one. I need to remember that I’ll be judged by whatever judgment I use, and it would be just as well to spare myself by looking past my own complaints.
2. Pray about it. The one and only safe place to vent is to the One who already knows, namely my Father in Heaven. If I go to Him in humble prayer, He can help me to know if I need to do anything more (including, perhaps, repent of my prideful assumption that I know best). I’m reminded of Elder Uceda’s story of a father who prayed before dealing with a daughter who did not want to participate in family scripture study. What a revelation to me about the humbling power of prayer.
3. Talk about it – to the right person. If there really is something that needs discussion, then I ought to find the right person. If I have a beef with the Sunday School teacher, I can talk to him and share my point of view, and then let it go. I can share something I’ve read or another reading of a verse, but in the end, I’m not the Doctrine Police. If I’m concerned about something involving one of my kids, I can seek out the individual involved and have a gentle conversation. If I need to involve the leadership of the organization or the bishop, I can prayerfully consider that. What I don’t need to do is gossip about it to other members of my family or ward.
In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord invites us to “reason together,” and if we do that though our “sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Motivation enough to reason with the Lord rather than complaining to anyone who is within earshot.