What should you do when someone starts “venting” to you?

If you’re in that situation when someone talking to you starts to “vent” about someone else… it usually starts small about how hard things are at the moment… but in order to explain how they’re feeling, they feel the need to share how this person has wronged them and that person was mean to them… and before long you’re hearing things that you ought not to hear… what should one do?

It’s a difficult moment, because you’re hoping that at any moment they’re going to recognise what they’re doing, you’re hoping they’re going to realise they didn’t mean to go into all that, and stop all by themselves. But… I think that’s very rare.

You should politely ask them to stop. Maybe…

“Can I stop you there for a second? I wonder if you’ve started talking about people in a way you wouldn’t like people talking about you?”

“Can we just press pause on this conversation for a minute? It sounds like you’ve got a lot of feelings rolling around at the moment and you might not have thought hard about what you should and shouldn’t say?”

But stopping it is only part of the response. Ideally, you want to help this person work out WHY they came to you in the first place… Did they really just want vengeance (and thought you knowing might help)? Are they simply trying to process what happened to them and their feelings and facts are getting all muddled up? Do they want you to go and fix their problem? Have they already had the same conversation with 5 other people (who didn’t tell them to stop) and now their just in the habit of talking that way?

Once again… it’s very rare that the presenting issue is the real issue. So try and treat the cause, not the symptoms.

When can “venting” be biblical?

When it’s appropriately directed towards your loving heavenly Father.

Yesterday I said that there’s no such thing as “godly venting”, meaning venting to someone about other people. But there is a type of venting we find in the scriptures… when God’s people are dealing with real trials and suffering, they come before their loving Father and they process it it honestly, and respectfully with Him.

See how the Psalmist bears his heart’s troubles to God…

Ps 73:2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. […]
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.

Ps 64:1 Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Or Moses,

Ex 5:22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Or Elijah,

1Ki 19:4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Jeremiah probably wished he was a little more careful…

Je 20:7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

But at the same time, be careful… Remember what God said to Job…

Job 38: Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

Is there such a thing as “Godly Venting”?

No.

Venting is that thing people (like me) do when something bad or annoying has happened. It usually involves someone else and how they made your life much harder and now all these things are going wrong (read “not like I wanted them to go”). And it normally coincides with some other significant life event and feels too much.

So you go and “get it off your chest”, or “vent”. You might even call it “processing”.

But what you’re really doing is either grumbling against God, slander or gossiping. Possibly all three.

Do you really need to get it off your chest? Really?

Well, have your tried telling God how you feel? Actually how you feel? No? Might it be because what you want to say isn’t very godly?

If you wouldn’t say it to God, don’t say it to anyone.