It happens to all of us. Sometimes we just need to vent. Maybe we’re forced to deal with an uncooperative person. Maybe we’re frustrated over persistent problems or failed plans. Maybe we’re just experiencing stress, fatigue, and disappointment. Whatever is going on, the irritation and exasperation builds up inside of us until we can’t hold it in any longer…

The Bible is filled with people who reached a boiling point. Most vented their frustrations on the Lord because they felt safe and confident in His presence. This was the case for Moses, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Jonah, and the Psalmist. 

Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 4:7 remind us God is open and will listen to our concerns, even if we’re just having a pity party, but do we take advantage of this? Or do we allow our prayer time to fall into a predictable rut? Worse yet, are we even talking to God at all? 

While God should be our primary outlet, sometimes it helps to talk with a person. However, we must choose that person carefully and our words judiciously. If we don’t, we may say something to the wrong person, say the wrong thing, or say the right thing in the wrong way. In any of these cases, we end up with bigger problems than our initial frustration. So, over the years, I’ve learned a few lessons about venting to people...

Make sure it’s a trusted friend. In the past I’ve vented to people I thought were friends, but they did not share my perception of our relationship. Instead, they considered me their pastor. On one occasion this led to a lecture about how I should be more careful about what I say, and on another occasion my words where used against me. So when you vent to a person, be sure it’s someone you feel so confident in and so secure around that you can have a gripe session without the fear of being judged or quoted later. Such relationships don’t just happen. They take time to develop, and they must be reciprocal (Prov. 17:17; Eccl 4:9-11).

Let it go, but not all of it. The Bible says a fool gives “full vent” to his anger (Proverbs 29:11). It doesn’t say a fool vents, but that a fool gives “full vent.” When we unload, we need to remember not make a fool of ourselves by using a colorful vocabulary, slandering the character of another, or failing to take responsibility for our own actions. In other words we need to be careful that in our anger we do not sin (Ephesian 4:26).

Tell your trusted friend when you’re venting. Several years ago a trusted church leader called me to share that he was upset about something related to the church. I felt myself getting frustrated and defensive until, in the middle of the conversation, he said, “I’m sorry. I’m just venting.” At that moment everything changed. Suddenly I felt more at ease—more patient and supportive. And I no longer felt the pressure to fix the problem. I was free just to sit, listen, and love. When I know someone is venting, my posture and perspective are completely different, but if I don’t know that someone is venting, I can become irritated because it can feel like I’m being dumped on. In that situation, I am also tempted to go into pastor mode—which means I start talking more than listening, I force answers, and I give advice that ends up being about as productive as the advice Job’s comforters gave him. 

Circle back around. After unloading on a friend, it’s good to go back and restart the conversation by asking questions like, “So, what did you hear me saying?” “Where do you think God is a work in this?” “Do you have anything you feel compelled to tell me?” If all we do is vent, we may feel better for a moment, but we don’t grow from it. We need spiritual direction from outside sources in order to help us learn. 

Venting is something we all need to do from time to time. So, when you need to get something off your chest, start with God, and if you need to lean on a person, take a minute to consider if you’re venting to the right person and if you’re doing so in a way that doesn’t end up making things worse.