5 Ways to Tame a Critical Spirit
by Cindi McMenamin
Would you like to reverse a bad habit in this new decade? How about developing a new one that encourages your children and draws your heart closer to them?
You can – when you learn how to deal with something that afflicts most moms. It’s that tendency to be critical which flares up in us now and then and before we know it fault-finding and disapproving words have escaped our lips and cut deeply into our children.
The Bible tells us “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures … have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Taming the tongue is secondary, however. It is our critical hearts and minds that must first be renewed to think like Christ, so our tongues don’t spew forth words that deflate and debilitate. If you’re like me and fear that you come across as critical at times, but don’t want to, here are four ways to tame a critical spirit.
- Practice Gratitude
Do you realize we can be complainers – unhappy with everything around us – when we have a gratitude problem? Scripture says everything we have has been given to us. When your child – regardless of his or her age – does something you don’t like, think of a way to be thankful, even if it’s just an opportunity to be silent when you would rather have blown off steam.
First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice that verse doesn’t say “Whenever things go your way, give thanks” or “whenever your children act like angels, be thankful for them.” If a situation causes you to want to complain, criticize, blow your cool, or just speak your mind, immediately thank God for it and it will soften your heart and wipe out the tendency for you to be critical at all.
- Choose Contentment
Personally, I have found it is easiest to be critical when I am not content. And that indicates a spiritual problem, as well. In addition to being thankful for all things (as mentioned in No. 1), contentment formulates in our lives when we confess to God our feelings of entitlement and ask for a spirit of contentment.
Paul, who was imprisoned, flogged, whipped nearly to death five times, beaten with
rods three times, pelted with stones (only once, good thing), and three times shipwrecked (among other perils), said he learned “the secret of being content in any and every situation.” That “secret” was knowing he could “do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). In other words, Paul learned to not complain, but be ever aware of a sovereign God who could accomplish much through Him and who could work “all things… for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When you choose to be content with what God is doing in your life, there is no room for complaint. And when your children see your contentment, they are more likely to develop attitudes of contentment, as well.
- Use Your “Filter”
A filter keeps contaminants out. I like to think of our filter as the restraining Holy Spirit that keeps us in check, and convicts our hearts before we speak or criticize or formulate in our minds a negative response toward someone else. Ephesians 4:29 explains how to start the filtration process in our hearts to stop what tries to work its way up to our mouths and escape through our speech: “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.”
Did you catch that? There are three steps to the filtration process: 1) We are to exercise self-control by guarding our mouths and letting no unwholesome word slip out; 2) We are to use discretion and speak only uplifting words that build up others; 3) We are to use discernment and ensure our words are timely “according to the need of the moment.” How often was a tender word needed, but we spoke a word of correction or rebuke instead? How often did our children need to hear first that we loved them, and later a lesson about how they could’ve avoided that mistake. Proverbs 15:23 says: “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” And Proverbs 16:24 tells us “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Be one who heals, not hurts, others with your timely words.
- Pray for Them First
I’ve done it, too. I’ve looked at someone, assessed them in my mind, and mentally condemned them as stand-offish, inappropriately dressed, angry at the world, or clueless. And unfortunately, critical words (that sounded like “judgment” to my daughter) then slipped out of my mouth. Yet, what does God command me to do to those around me? Pray for them. Love them as He loves them. Desire that they know Jesus. Share with them the greatest news ever told.
It was my adult daughter who finally pointed out to me that I was “judging” before considering what – and Who – another person might need. Now, when I remember her rebuke – and that of my Lord’s – I find myself praying: Lord Jesus, You know that person’s heart and what they’ve been through. May they see Jesus in my smile, my friendly words, and my heart of understanding. May they ultimately see less of me and more of You.
- Remember the Principle of Pain
People who hurt, hurt people. People in pain can come across as angry, resentful, absent-minded or depressed. Instead of harboring a critical thought or speaking defeating words to someone who is not talking, behaving, or dressing appropriately, consider the strong possibility that person is acting, reacting, and living out of pain.
Current or past pain does not excuse our behavior. But the realization that someone may be in physical or emotional pain can help us back off of criticism and extend grace because we, too, understand what it is to hurt. No one is exempt from pain. And although we must choose how to respond to our circumstances, instead of thinking I deal with chronic pain and I keep a positive attitude, why can’t he? try extending grace instead. Grace reasons I wonder what he’s experiencing that I haven’t. Empathy says “I don’t understand, but I’m feeling for you.” That is the opposite of a critical spirit.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and award-winning writer who helps women and couples strengthen their relationship with God and with others. She has authored more than a dozen books including When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter, When God Sees Your Tears, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, When Couples Walk Together (co-authored with her husband, Hugh), and Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. For more on her resources to help strengthen your walk with God, your marriage, or your parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.