The acid we used in Chemistry class burned everything it touched. It ate a hole in a block of wood, etched deep scars in a metal basin, and permanently marred a plastic tabletop. We put on goggles and gloves and used special beakers designed to hold the caustic liquid, but we were still hesitant and afraid. Our teacher’s warnings had put a healthy fear of injury in our minds. Many opted out of the experiment, and the rest of us performed the necessary steps as quickly and carefully as possible, relieved when we could rid ourselves of the poisonous fluid.
Now that I’ve stepped out of the classroom and into the laboratory of life, I’ve discovered a parallel to the acid we experimented with in high school. Psychologists call it a critical spirit. It doesn’t come with a warning label, but its characteristics are similarly destructive.
Critical words eat holes in tender souls.
Critical minds etch deep scars in families, marriages, and friendships.
Critical hearts mar forever the shine and beauty of faith, hope, and love.
Threatening to steal the joy from everything that isn’t perfect and everyone who falls short of its expectations, a critical spirit is a ravenous beast that devours many an honest effort, loving gesture, or kind deed with nary a backward glance.
It poisons every relationship it touches, because the pressure of an impossible standard is too heavy to bear. Those in relationship with one who possesses a critical spirit are always trying and always falling short. Eventually they stop trying altogether.
I believe there are three poisonous roots that support the critical spirit tree:
Thanklessness. Instead of being grateful for every gift, action, or kind word, the critical spirit weighs everything against an imagined standard of unattainable perfection and gripes and grumbles when it falls short. It complains about what it doesn’t have instead of appreciating what it does.
Selfishness. Critical spirits reside in people who expect and demand to be served. They believe their needs should be met first, their wants attended to quickly, and their preferences honored.
- Insecurity. Critical spirits build themselves up by tearing others down. Pointing out others’ failures, errors, and flaws, makes them feel smug, smart, and superior.
Thankfully, there is a cure for a critical spirit, although it’s often a slow and painful process. The habits of tearing people down instead of building up, criticizing instead of commending, and griping instead of being grateful are hard to change, but not impossible. Luke 1:37 assures us that nothing is impossible with God.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a critical spirit, here are five steps to banish this most destructive enemy:
Acknowledge that a critical spirit is sinful. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Seeing our negativity through God’s eyes allows us to apply the principle of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sin, he (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Once we’ve confessed and forsaken our critical spirits, we can ask God to help us gain victory over them.
Be thankful. Every time you’re tempted to grumble, turn your grumbling into gratefulness. There is always something to be thankful for in every situation, but we have to train ourselves to look for it. As gratitude becomes a more frequent visitor in our hearts and minds, negative emotions find no place to rest. Eventually gratitude moves in permanently.
Fight selfishness. An unselfish heart thinks of others ahead of itself. It gives instead of takes. It serves instead of demanding to be served. Philippians 2:4 gives us a healthy balance: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
- Believe that you are valuable and loved. When we fully grasp that God’s love isn’t dependent on our ability to earn his favor, we can stop measuring ourselves against everyone around us and find our value and self-worth in Christ. Acknowledging that we are all works in process gives us room to extend grace to ourselves and to others when we fall short of some imagined standard.
- Have a gracious spirit. The opposite of a critical spirit is a gracious spirit. People who possess a gracious spirit have a deep understanding of God’s mercy and goodness. They’re quick to recognize their own need for mercy and are willing to extend that same mercy to others because they’re thankful for how God has dealt with them. They’re also well aware that the way they treat others will, in large part, determine how God will deal with them.
James 2:13 warns us, “So you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment.”
Just like I took proper precautions to protect myself from the acid in my 10th grade Chemistry class, I also want to protect myself from the destructive power of a harsh and critical spirit. By recognizing it as sin, replacing grumbling with gratitude, fighting the tendency toward selfishness, and believing I am valuable and loved, I’ll be well on my way to becoming a person who builds others up instead of tears them down. And that’s the kind of person I want to be.
How about you? Do you struggle with negativity? If so, what has helped you overcome a critical spirit? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.
Lori Hatcher is a blogger, inspirational speaker, and author of the Christian Small Publisher’s 2016 Book of the Year, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. A Toastmasters International contest-winning speaker, Lori’s goal is to help busy women connect with God in the craziness of everyday life. She especially loves small children, soft animals, and chocolate. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@lorihatcher2) or Pinterest (Hungry for God).
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: November 14, 2016