To gossip, grumble or groan in the workplace

My colleague sidled up to me and quietly said, “Come into the office kitchen”. I obediently followed, and once we got there she launched into a five-minute tirade about one of our other colleagues. As I stood there listening a mixture of thoughts swirled in my mind. On the one hand, a lot of what she was saying was true; I tended to agree! But on the other hand the conversation felt slanderous, it felt like gossip, and I knew as a Christian I shouldn’t engage in that. And so in response I said…nothing.

This kind of scenario is repeated daily in workplaces around the country. I recently had lunch with a man who described a breakfast catch up with his work peers that he had organised. “It got to the point where I wished I could leave even though I had organised it”, he said. “The whole conversation was grumbling about work”.

Grumble, gossip...

Much workplace conversation is characterised by grumbling. But why do we grumble? Grumbling is a mark of discontentment. Whether people realise it or not, their grumbling is a testimony to the fact that the world is not the way it was meant to be. Somewhere deep inside us all, whether we acknowledge it or not, we know “this is not the way it was meant to be”.

However to respond by grumbling (or gossiping) does not honour God. The Israelites grumbled in the desert and were punished severely for it (Exodus 15:24, 16:2-10). In the New Testament they are held up as an example for us not to follow (1 Corinthians 10:10-11). And the Apostle Paul explicitly instructs us not to do it (Philippians 2:14).

...or groan

But this is not to say that there is no place for Christians to acknowledge that things are not the way that they are meant to be, particularly in the workplace. Rather than grumbling the Bible offers an alternative form of speech: groaning. Groaning (or lamenting) is entirely Biblical and God honouring. There is a whole book set aside for it (Lamentations) and in Romans 8 the Apostle Paul writes of a groaning creation, and “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

So grumbling is a sin, but groaning is fitting for the Christian person. But what is the difference between the two? I think the difference comes down to this: grumbling blames God and shows a lack of trust in Him (think of the Israelites in the desert), whereas groaning places the blame for the troubles of this world at the feet of humans because of our sin. And groaning also continues to trust in God to set all things right. This is precisely how Paul speaks about groaning in Romans 8, in the context of human sin being the cause of our troubles (8:20), and with hope for God to renew all things (8:23-25). Thus God is honoured in our groaning, but not our grumbling.

So how do we replace grumbling with groaning? Paul gives us a clue when he writes, “If we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (8:25). Patience empowers groaning, because it allows us to sit in the challenge and work through it to a hopeful end, rather than grumble and try to hastily escape it without any real resolution. Patience allows us to acknowledge the frustration or difficulty that we might be facing in the workplace with honesty – “This is not the way it is meant to be” – and to seek a positive way forward in hope.

Gratitude and gratefulness

Further we can add to our grumbling words of gratitude and gratefulness. Gratefulness is also a hallmark of the Christian person. We can be thankful in the face of workplace challenges and difficulties because in Christ we know that this is not the end, that in spite of the challenges now, we have the sure and certain hope of Him one day making all things new.

I have often imagined that I was back in that office kitchen with my work colleague, and how I might have handled it differently. If I had the chance again, I’ve imagined that rather than saying nothing I might have said something like this. “You know what, I understand. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s not right that our colleague acts in that way. But here are the things that I am thankful for about them. Why don’t we seek a positive way forward with them like this”. When grumbling starts in the workplace seek to replace it with Biblical groaning and hopeful, Gospel gratefulness.