A Critical Spirit – Part 1

I remember years ago eating lunch out with my mom when we were shopping one day. We were having pizza, and I ordered a large soda with my meal. When the drinks were delivered, I was disappointed to discover that my cup wasn’t filled to the brim. Quite quickly I muttered, “They sure were stingy with my drink. Look how much more they could have put into this glass.”

My mom smiled and responded with, “Wow. I was just thinking what a huge glass of Pepsi that was.”

Have you ever known someone who seems to find something negative in almost every person or situation? Not only do they think those thoughts themselves, but they also share them with whomever is nearby. Do you enjoy being around that person? What about you? What kind of thoughts do you allow into your mind? Are they critical, or are they edifying?

In the soda cup example, I had the critical attitude, while my mom had the positive one. There were certainly two ways to look at that glass. One view would cause negative feelings, agitation, discontentment, and unhappiness. I was finding fault with the one who had prepared my drink and served it to me without that drink being as full as I thought it should have been. The other way of looking at the glass of soda would most likely lead to a peaceful heart, contentment, gratitude, and pleasure.

Do you know what the dictionary definition of criticism is? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it is, “to find fault with; point out the fault of.” With that definition, consider these verses: “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:8-10). “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2).

One of the goals we have for our children is that they would learn to edify rather than criticize. We have even listed that goal in our family vision statement with these two verses: “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19). “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Teaching our children to edify rather than criticize would begin with my personal example.

A critical spirit can cause damage to relationships. Consider the mother who generally points out her children’s failures, while continually picking and nagging at those children. Does that draw the child’s heart to the mom? No, the outcome of criticism is likely to be a child who draws back from the mother, trying to protect his heart from the pain of more disappointment that is bound up with the negative words from the mom’s mouth. Critical words play a role in those kinds of attitudes.

What about the wife who speaks to her husband of each thing he does that she doesn’t like or doesn’t believe he does very well? Even if she is not yelling at him, what do those critical words do to their relationship? What does he come to expect in the relationship? Does that draw his heart to her? What if she were to only point out seventy-five or fifty percent of those aspects of his behavior that displease her? Would that make it better? “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike” (Proverbs 27:15 ). I wonder if it is possible that criticism could be part of what can make a wife contentious.

How do you feel about the friend who regularly tells you of others’ failures or spends her conversation with you complaining about her husband or children? When her focus is on these details of life, does it make you want to seek her out for fellowship? Does it cause your heart to feel burdened or joyful?

On Friday, Steve and I were enjoying a lunch date at our favorite, local Mexican restaurant. When we were finished eating, he reached across the table, took my hand, and told me how much he loved me and loved being with me. While those words brought much joy to my heart, the Lord also used them to bring conviction.

In that moment, I was instantly returned to the conversations between us while we ate, and I recalled a couple of things that I had said that could have been construed as critical comments. Having begun to work on this Mom’s Corner, criticism was quite fresh on my mind. I realized how much more pleasant it would be for Steve during our times of communication if I didn’t put any negative thoughts into his mind through critical words.

Remember that there is harm that comes from criticism: first to others but also to the one who thinks and then speaks the critical words. Criticism separates relationships as we observed in a mother/child relationship and in a husband/wife relationship. It will be true of other relationships as well. It causes those who are the recipients of the criticism to form a shell of protection from the critical words which then distances a relationship. If I am listening to a person who is prone to criticism, I soon find that their poison infiltrates my mind even if I try to resist it.

In my walk with the Lord, it has been my desire to move away from a critical spirit to one that edifies. I would like to look at the process of gaining victory over a critical spirit in next month’s Mom’s Corner. In the coming days, I encourage you to listen carefully to yourself. Are your words critical, or are your words edifying? Maybe you could benefit from evaluating criticism with me from a biblical viewpoint. If you have allowed a critical spirit to become a part of your life, then you might consider letting the Lord prune it away from you as we study this topic in more depth. I think this would be a worthy goal for each of us: “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26).