A Critical Spirit – Part 2

Last month we were discussing a critical spirit. We started with evaluating the results of having a critical spirit and speaking critical words. If you haven’t read that article, it can be found here.

Several of the responses to the July Mom’s Corner generated a desire in my heart to take the order of the information in this series differently than I had originally planned so that it practically addresses the issues with which you are dealing. The main question that came in concerning being critical was along these lines: “How can a mother raise her children for the Lord Jesus Christ without constantly criticizing them?”

Here are a couple of those e-mails:

“I loved this month’s Mom’s Corner.

I’ve never considered myself to be habitually critical, but I find myself lately being more and more so! Where did this come from? I am eagerly waiting for next month’s Corner to learn how to gain victory over it. I am especially interested in your thoughts on it regarding the mother’s role in correcting children . . . especially recurring issues that tend to lead to nagging.” Sandy

“I just recently read your July Mom’s Corner. Thank you for choosing such a great topic for me as I seem to struggle much in this area. It seems that every night I go to bed and ask the Lord’s forgiveness for nagging and discouraging my children. I also beg for a new day with a new approach tomorrow. And so the cycle continues with not much difference, unfortunately. I have posted verses in my kitchen window and like I said prayed often. How discouraged I am. But I also can’t seem to figure out what to say to encourage children who are NOT trying very hard and are NOT doing all to the glory of God. It feels very false to find something to encourage in those moments. Any thoughts on this? What do you say when the effort is just not put forth and their attitudes are poor? Thank you for your time.” Carrie

As Christian mothers we desire to raise our children as Ephesians 6:4 tells us, “ . . . bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” In this process, we know that it will be necessary to correct our children, point out what they have done wrong and what they have neglected to do. Certainly as we do this, our children are the last ones we would ever want to discourage through criticism because we love them so very much. Instead we have the goal to encourage and spur them on as they grow not only in stature but also in wisdom. Yet like Carrie, when we teach, correct, and perhaps discipline for the same offenses over and over, we can find ourselves in a vicious cycle of frustration, criticism, repentance, prayer, hope, and then failure again.

“Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands” (Proverbs 14:1). Perhaps as we consider overcoming a critical spirit toward our children, we could think of this verse as reminding us that we will either build up or pluck down our families with our words.

What would be the difference between criticism and the admonishment we are biblically directed to give our children? Do you remember the definition of criticism? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is, “to find fault with; point out the fault of,” but the definition of admonishment is, “to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to.” Criticism negatively states the fault while admonishment positively moves the child away from the problem and toward the solution. There is a huge difference in these two not only in the words that are used but also in the attitude behind the communication.

Observe the difference between a critical mom and an admonishing mom. Here are the type of words that can come from the frustrated mother. “How many times have I told you to take out the trash? You never listen to what I say. How will you ever grow up to be a responsible man if you can’t even take out the trash? You’d better get this trash out now!” Can you see the tearing down effect of these words on the child’s heart? Do you almost get a feeling of vengeance?

There is a definite tone of voice with this conversation that communicates to the child the level of his mother’s unhappiness. These words are personal attacks on the child, leaving him without direction or hope, just a feeling of failure. She also undermines her goal of helping her child be responsible because she doesn’t assign him a consequence.

Let’s hear from the admonishing mom. “Son, you have the responsibility to take out the trash. Since you haven’t done it, you need to stop what you are doing, and do it now. I am also giving you lunch cleanup alone as a consequence for not doing your chore. It is important that you grow up to be a responsible man. That starts right now by learning to do the things that are assigned to you to do. Colossians 3:17 says, ‘And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’ Do you know that would mean even when you take out the trash you are doing it for the Lord and in His Name? It is to be your best for Him. I know you can do that.”

This mom maintains a gentleness to her words and interactions with her son even if this is the tenth time that week she has had this same conversation with her child. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). That tone of voice encourages the child rather than discourages him.

Proverbs 16:21 tells us that “. . . the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.” When we correct a child, our aim is that he would learn something from our words. Therefore, it is imperative that we choose not to allow those tones to creep into our words of correction but rather keep them gentle, pleasant, and sweet.

Next we can see that she gives her child a consequence. “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Proverbs 29:17). Mom isn’t critical, angry, or harsh with her child. She simply tells him his consequence and waits patiently for the rest and delight to her soul that is to come from her correction. That may be a work that is awhile in the process.

A tool that we recommend to help you with consequences is the If/Then Chart. The theory behind the If/Then Chart is to tie a specific Scripture to actual wrong behavior along with a consequence. On the chart are offenses children can be guilty of committing, a verse for why that behavior is unacceptable, and a consequence that the parent has chosen. Then when something happens, all Mom has to do is go to the If/Then Chart rather than having a critical attitude or critical words for her children. Consistent correction will help the child overcome the problems that are instigating the critical spirit in the mom.

While the admonishing mom definitely points out what her child didn’t do, she gives no judgment about the past or the future. She doesn’t sound disappointed in her child, but instead holds out the expectation that it will be better for him in the future.

How about another example. Two sisters are squabbling over a toy loudly enough that Critical Mom becomes involved saying, “Stop it, right now! Just stop it! You two are supposed to be best friends, but you act like worst enemies. I am sick and tired of listening to you fight with each other. You know better than to act like that. Won’t you ever learn to get along?” Those critical words might stop the quarreling temporarily, but they aren’t going to be the impetuous for lasting change.

Let’s move our attention once again to Admonishing Mom. “Girls, I am sorry that you aren’t nicely sharing the toys. You will need to sit on a dining room chair for five minutes. Then you can try again. Remember Ephesians 4:32 tell us, ‘And be ye kind one to another . . .’ If you don’t share with each other, you are not being kind. When the timer goes off, you may return to your room where I am sure you can both be nice to each other by sharing your toys.” Here we observe pleasant words, a consequence, Scripture to back up the positive behavior, and the hope that they will be successful next time.

Try having a biblical plan to help you overcome critical words. That plan would include sweetness of the lips, consistent consequences, and words of encouragement rather than despair. I even suggest that you practice in front of your bathroom mirror each day a couple of interactions with a child who needs to be corrected. I think that will help gentleness become the norm over criticism. Next month I would like to delve into the spiritual roots of criticism, but my prayer this month is that these practical suggestions will start not only Sandy and Carrie toward their goal of avoiding the trap of criticizing their children but also you as well.

Bitter or Sweet? – Part 5

To listen to this Corner as a podcast, please see this link.

Our area is in the midst of a severe drought. There are several wooded hillsides in the area, and as you look at them, you can see trees that are slowly dying. Even in the neighborhoods where Teri and I walk every day, we are observing trees that first turn brown, then lose their leaves, and appear to be dying. What is sad is that the trees in people’s yards don’t have to die. If only the homeowner would turn on a hose under the tree and let it run, he could save the tree with that small amount of preventative effort. How much greater value is a marriage and therefore worthy of effort to sweeten it, making it a testimony of God’s grace?

No matter what the condition of our marriages, how committed are we to improving them? We can become lazy or complacent, not treasuring the precious gift a wife is from the Lord. If you haven’t read the previous four parts of the series, I would encourage you to do that now. This month we look specifically at the topic of ways we are able to make it easier for our wives to respect us. As we discussed last month, a wife is called to follow her husband. The husband is never to demand or command that she follow, but instead her following is an offering to the Lord. However we can make it harder or easier for her to follow us. In a similar way, the wife is to respect or reverence her husband. “Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Certainly, one small way I can love my wife is to make it easier for her to respect me. So the obvious question is: husbands, how respectable are you?

Have you ever heard about a scandal involving a person in a religious organization or a government position? It becomes the “talk of the town” because all are shocked that someone in such a position would do something like that. I remember when a police officer shared with me how he had arrested a judge for drunk driving. Here was a judge, who would routinely sentence someone convicted of drunk driving, committing the same crime. Those who respected the man and his position would then struggle to show the judge respect. When people in authority make bad decisions, those under them will have difficulty respecting in the future. Dads, are we making it easy for our wives to respect us?

Being able to follow a leader is all about the decisions that leader makes while respecting him with who he is in terms of character and virtue. I want to list a number of character qualities along with a brief description of how each one makes it easier for a wife to respect her husband. There are additional qualities that were defined in the previous Corner on agape love, so I won’t include them here.

Attentive: When my wife is speaking to me do I give her complete or partial attention? Even though I might be able to listen to her and skim an e-mail at the same time, if I give her my complete attention, I demonstrate in a tangible way that she is first in my life next to my Lord Jesus.

Available: I make it easier for my wife to respect me when I’m available to her whether it be to listen to her concerns, help her with something, or simply to be together. If other things take priority over her or the needs of the family, it makes it difficult for her to respect me.

Content: Am I at peace with what the Lord has provided, or am I covetous of something “better”? Often we hear stories of dads who borrow money from the bank to purchase things they really don’t need. Then the family is under huge financial stress, making it very difficult for Mom to respect Dad.

Dependable: When my alarm clock doesn’t alarm, it causes no little disappointment. When Dad has made a commitment, such as the family will have Bible time every night and then that doesn’t happen, Mom can be discouraged. She will likely struggle to respect him as well.

Diligent: For a stay-at-home mom, her children and home are her life. It starts when she gets up and ends when she goes to bed. When Dad is hardworking to fulfill his responsibilities, Mom is encouraged to be diligent with hers as well. In addition, when Dad will come alongside Mom in the evenings to pitch in with work that still needs to be accomplished, she sees that he isn’t lazy or self-focused. That makes it easier for her to respect him.

Enthusiastic: Job said, “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). We can expect difficulties in this life. However, if we have a cheerful attitude toward them, taking whatever comes with the strength the Lord Jesus gives us, we are easier to respect.

Faithful: A dad who is faithful to his Lord and his family is easier to respect.

Flexible: One thing we can be sure about life is that something is always going to change. When Dad is willing to adjust his schedule, even when calling for self-sacrifice, to meet an unexpected need in the family, it is easier for Mom to respect him.

Generous: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Whether it be giving of our money or time, it is easier for Mom to respect Dad when Dad is following the Lord’s direction and leading his family in these areas.

Gentle: When Mom observes Dad being gentle with the children or herself, it is easier for her to respect him. However, if Dad is harsh or angry with the children or with her, it crushes her heart and makes it ever so difficult to respect him.

Honest: When Dad’s word is as sure as granite, it is easier for Mom to respect him.

Humble: When Mom can share with Dad her concerns and hurts knowing that Dad will not react but be sympathetic and loving, it makes it easier for her to respect Dad.

Just: Dad is the “Supreme Court” of the home because the children will bring Dad concerns over the fairness of Mom’s decisions at times. How well Dad can rightly (according to God’s Word) support Mom when settling authority challenges will make it easier for Mom to respect him.

Loyal: There will always be someone prettier, more charming, or more compatible than Mom. The more loyal Dad is to Mom, the easier it is for her to respect him.

Obedient: A dad who openly delights to obey his Lord Jesus, makes it much easier for Mom to respect and follow Dad.

Patient: When Dad patiently waits for Mom or listens attentively when she needs to share her heart, it makes it easier for her to respect him.

Punctual: A dad who understands that punctuality is a matter of honor and respect for those to whom the time commitment was made makes it easier for Mom to respect him.

Responsible: When Dad understands and follows through with his obligations, whether he committed to them or they are perceived by others, it is easier for Mom to respect him.

Temperate/self-control: A dad who uses his authority for his own indulgences will have little respect from those in the home. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). In a day when self-control means stopping after eating twelve donuts, it is easier for Mom to respect Dad when he is a man of true self-control.

Yes, a wife is instructed to respect her husband and the husband is commanded to love his wife, yet both can make it easier for the other by right words, actions, and attitudes. May we be men of our God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we will be easy for our wives to respect.