As a child, we would run to the dinner table. It’s not that we looked forward to the family conversation, or the chance to gather together. Knowing us, we were probably hungry.
There was no banter back and forth or a volleying of humor. If we laughed, it was at the expense of another. It’s what we saw; it was all we knew.
And unbeknown to us, we were learning another thing at that daily table—how to be critical. And believe me I learned it well.
My name is Anne Peterson, and I am a critical person.
I lived with criticism.
For all those meals, for all my life, I never once heard my father say, “Mary, that was a good meal.” But I can’t tell you the number of times I heard, “What it needed was a little more salt.” or “You know what you should do next time…?”
We’d come home with our report cards. Our dad was looking for one thing, and one thing alone. All A’s, or in our day, all E’s. Nothing less was seen. In fact, he went a step further. If any of us got all E’s, we received $5.00. And one year it was me, or so I thought.
Giddy from seeing all my E’s, I turned to the kid who sat behind me in Miss Aachan’s class. I penciled the words on his report card, “Bob is bad.” Moments later I was summoned up to the teacher’s desk. She simply held her hand out, “Give me your report card.” Taking it from my shaking hand, she wrote something down and handed it back to me. Tears blurred my vision as I tried to get back to my seat.
After running home, I got in line to show dad my report card. One of my hard-earned E’s had been changed to a lowly G.
“But I did get all E’s Dad. See, it was an E,” I pleaded. “Sorry,” he said. But I knew he wasn’t sorry at all.
It was all or nothing. And in my case, it was nothing.
Maybe this time…
Years later, as a returning student, I did get all A’s. And yet, I still had an empty feeling inside. Perhaps I needed to have it acknowledged. With both my parents gone, I called an aunt to share my news. I got my degree.
“Aunt Jeanette, I did it,” I told her. “I graduated.”
Hope hung on. I just wanted one positive word.
But instead, I heard, “You could have done it a long time ago.” Her words dug deep into my stomach, and once again, I hurt.
In time, I found it easier to focus on what was negative, oblivious to the positive. My daughter would put away the laundry and I would say, “The towels don’t go like that, they go this way.”
She would fix her bed, and I’d redo it. She’d put away dishes and I’d point out she neglected to wipe off the counter.
There’s something I learned wearing these critical shoes. I don’t like being critical. It’s something I’m trying to change. Maybe deep down, that’s how critical people feel.
If anyone had a right to be critical, it was Jesus. When he hung on the cross, he could have said, “God, let them have it.” But he didn’t.
Don’t seek revenge.
Jesus immediately turned to his Father. Read Luke 23:34. He said, “They know not what they do.”
And the truth is, we can become like the people around us. But we don’t have to. God is in the restoration business. Just because we lived with criticism doesn’t mean we have to be critical.
And yet, I had a dilemma. How could I become what I never saw modeled? God gave me new models. I saw kindness in other homes —at a Bible study I attended, and at a relative’s house. I began to learn it was possible to give what I had never received as a child.
How? By telling others the things I longed to hear. It was something new, but I was more than willing to learn.
There’s not one person who doesn’t need encouragement. In fact, the ones who need it the most are those who have never received it.
Furthermore, God tells us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:43-45. God knows everyone needs love, but those who are outwardly mean —they are probably the most unloved.
Will it be a challenge? Yes. But we can turn to the Lord, knowing he faced it all the time. For he ministered to those who knew they needed help.
When we come across someone critical, we can ask God what to say.
Dear Lord, help those of us who are critical. Sometimes the words that slip out of our mouths are not words that build up, but instead, words that tear down. Help us to look to you instead. Give us the words that the person before us needs to hear. Life-giving words. And Father, help us to forgive those who have been critical with us. Help us to be like Jesus, and to believe, that those who have hurt us, don’t know what they are doing. We can’t do it without you, Lord. I pray this, not in our own name, but in the name of your precious, Holy Son. Amen.
Anne Peterson is a regular contributor to Crosswalk. She is a poet, speaker and published author of fourteen books. Some of which are her memoir, Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival, the children’s books: Emma’s Wish, The Crooked House, and Lulu’s Lunch. She has also authored the poetry books Droplets, and the series He Whispers. While Anne enjoys being a poet, speaker and published author, her favorite title is still ‘Grandma’ to her three grandchildren here, and one in heaven. To find out more about Anne you can visit her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest pages.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: February 8, 2017