Critical Spirit

Journal 2010. One Sunday at church, I could feel something in my heart jabbing—scornful, critical, and judgmental—toward the man worshipping in front of me. Convicted, I closed my eyes and watched a visual unfold in my mind as I tried to refocus on the singing.

I saw myself walking down the central aisle in a heavenly church, dressed in a spotless bridal gown. As I reached the platform where God sat on His throne, His “train that filled the temple” enveloped me. Then He gently turned me around to face a great throng of worshippers, all dressed in similar white garb. I was no more special than anyone else in the audience. The man I had judged was just as pure, forgiven, and covered by the blood as I was. We were fellow travelers, fellow strugglers.

The lights dimmed low, but a spotlight picked out this man moving toward me. He extended his right hand of fellowship and reconciliation, and then he reached for Jesus, and they exchanged words of intimacy. I realized then that God had used him in a special way—unique to him, and I heard God say, “Let each esteem others better than themselves.” My self-righteous, critical spirit toward this man dissipated.

Why am I so taken aback when someone I hardly know comments, “You are so critical!” What words are coming out of my mouth that are hurtful, analytical, cutting, or nit-picky? Is this how others see me? Really? Ouch! Lord, change me!

I have never taken kindly to criticism. We “perfect,” one-on-the-enneagram people like to think we never do anything wrong. We aren’t rebellious, vindictive, or cruel on purpose. We want to please and placate and follow and do right all the time. “Miss Goody Two Shoes” is our nickname*.

Being a critic, however, can be both a blessing and a curse. The gift is I can quickly discover what’s wrong and try to correct it. Some children throw a party if they get 99% on a test, but not me. I focus on the one I missed and want to know the correct answer, so I can get it right next time. The “curse” is that it leaves no room for grace or for seeing the good in people. Is that behavior temperament-driven or woundedness—something inside that craves attention, achieving goals, or pleasing a professor? I don’t know where the roots are.

Unfortunately, this habit translates into observing character flaws in my loved ones. I was a cheerleader when my girls were learning to walk but became their worst critic when they didn’t perform at school according to my expectations. I hear God’s Spirit gently whispering to me: “Room for growth.” Instead of looking at a person as a complete, finished, having-arrived performer, celebrate how far he or she has come. And instead of seeing how far short they are of the bar of perfection, the paradigm shift is to see how much room they have to grow.

I’m not sure this takes care of every critical thought, but it’s one piece. Perhaps it will give me space to be less than perfect. I have room to grow.

If we could see ourselves as other see us . . .

If we could see others as Jesus sees them . . .

*Being called Miss Goody Two-Shoes was originally a compliment, not a derogatory term. “Goody” was the little girl’s name in the story, not a description of her behavior.

A 2021 Update. I’ve worked diligently over the past few years on curbing my inner critic. I hope and pray I am a kinder, gentler person both toward myself and toward others. And if I am the recipient of criticism, I am quicker to forgive and not put up a shield of defense. I can only hope and pray that those I’ve hurt have found healing for their own souls. I’m truly repentant.

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