Four tips on how to safely unload stresses and frustrations without hurting yourself, others, and your God.
This side of eternity, people are going to vent. I know that’s so shocking to you, but it’s true.
Think about the past few years with the pandemic, governmental and organizational failures, and fallen leaders. The cost of everything keeps going up while the availability of just about everything continues to remain tight. And the natural thing we humans do is to default by grumbling. Venting. Complaining.
Sometimes, it feels like you just have to let it out or you’re going to pop. But do you really need to vent about your unbearable boss who you meet at the end of your morning’s grueling commute? There’s a mountain of stuff more important to grumble about these days.
But venting is risky. If you unburden yourself with the wrong person, you’ll never be able to recall those feelings. People who complain too much get tagged as negative, a complainer, or someone who never sees the good.
Ethan Kross, author of the book Chatter says it all. “We want to connect with other people who can help validate what we’re going through, and venting really does a pretty good job at fulfilling that need. It feels good to know there’s someone there to rely on who cares enough to take time to listen.”
But both the Bible and data suggest that there is venting, and then there is venting. Sometimes we get stuck in the “feel good” mode of venting. If all we do is vent, we never move to the place where we address both the external and internal problems.
So, how do we promote healthy venting? Also, how do we nip unhealthy venting in the bud? Here are four tips to use.
Venting Carefully. Just because you see a road doesn’t make it a great way to go, especially if there’s a “Do Not Enter” sign. Just because someone feels like venting doesn’t automatically make it right, or give them the go-ahead. It must be approached with wisdom and discretion, two attributes missing in lots of people that feel they have the spiritual gift of venting.
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. Matthew 12:36 NIV
Venting Constructively. Like a piston that pushes out exhaust, it then immediately pulls in fresh air and fuel, so it is with venting. While there is an initial emotional “release” with venting, it’s never to end there. It must lead to building up and correction. Venting for venting’s sake is never constructive or a solution to anything except more hurt and pain.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29 NIV
Venting Peacefully. When we start venting, it’s so easy to fall into our long-practiced habit of uncontrolled anger. When we vent because we’ve been hurt, our rights have been violated, or because our expectations were not met, then we’re trading on ground that God claims responsibility for. So, we must tread carefully, with a goal of restoration, making peace.
In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26–27 NIV
Venting Personally. While everyone in your Small Group has the right and privilege to vent, the default audience is not the entire group. If there is a problem within the entire group, then by all means air it out in the group. But if the someone needs to vent against someone in the group, then that’s a smaller audience.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. Matthew 18:15 NIV
To make this work, we must be equally desiring both truth and love.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15 NIV
Truth by itself is not the answer. Truth alone is just data. It’s cold information, unfeeling, and not interested in people. Truth is also arrogant: it assumes that the other person is just as spiritually mature as you are. If truth is all there is, then you’re worshiping at the alter of arrogance, where being right is above everyone and everything else.
Love alone is just as bad. Being an emotional mush ball that always falls back when pushed is no help or support at all. Not being willing or able to stand up for the truth is just another way of falling down at the altar of feelings. Your need to be liked is above everyone and everything else.
A Personal Venting Failure
As Small Group leaders, we hold an incredibly awesome responsibility before God and one another. I remember someone starting a vent that was basically attacking everyone in the church. They were all spiritually immature and inferior. Everyone was taking advantage of him. No one appreciated him personally or the work he was doing. All the members were insensitive. All the staff was inept.
In my head I knew exactly what needed to be done. I needed to gently but firmly help my friend calm down and get control of his anger. Our Small Group was neither the time nor the place for this conversation. It was going to do nothing but inflame his anger and hurt everyone else.
So, I screwed up my courage and did nothing. Said nothing. I just sat there and let him vent. But more than just doing nothing, I did absolutely nothing. His venting wound up hurting lots of people in our Small Group. His unresolved issues rapidly escalated with him and others, causing a number of people to leave the Small Group and the church.
I’m not proud of what I did. Or what I didn’t do. What makes this story all the more tragic is that he had met with one of the leaders of the church for more than three years before this all happened. And that leader was me.
My problem is that I wanted to be liked more than anything else. That was my idol that needed to be confessed.
Ultimately, venting is something best taken directly to God. Read Job 3 through 37 and it’s one big venting party. But when God speaks in chapters 38 through 41, everything changes. And at the end of the book, what has Job learned? How has he been changed?
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you
Venting, handled properly, brings people to the realization of who they are, who God is, and the changes that need to happen in their lives. And Small Groups are the right place for all that to happen.
 Ethan Kross is an American experimental psychologist, neuroscientist and writer, who specializes in emotion regulation. He is a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan and director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory.