Thursday, April 7, 2016

Criticizing Criticism.

If it seems a little hypocritical to criticize someone for being critical of other people, you are right. I am a naturally critical person, judging when I am not asked to judge, and often unable (or unwilling?) to keep my opinion to myself.  Which is why I need to take all of my ideas expressed in this blog post and live them out too!

In High School choir, our director gave the seniors symbolic gifts at the end of the school year, and my senior year, Mr. Graber gave out tool-themed gifts. He gave me a measuring tape for my constant ability to analyze and gauge how we were doing, what we should be working on, and how much more effort we would need to invest in order for a piece to become "concert ready".

I remember feeling honored, thinking his gift showed a hidden talent I possessed for understanding goals and measuring success. This is true to an extent, but the older I get, the more clearly I see how my constant evaluation of every circumstance, event, or action is bringing me despair instead of joy. Especially when it concerns the lifestyle choices of other people.

My Facebook feed is filled with numerous opinions expressing discontentment, judgement, or critical evaluation of someone, some thing, or some event. I come across far too many blog-posts about the grumpy woman at Target, articles about the president's mode of transportation, and books about the terrible consequences of disciplining your children. All day long, I am bombarded with critical opinions from other people via social media. Even at the grocery store, at the gym, and sometimes even at church, we voice problems with our world, dissatisfaction and struggle, rather than seeing goodness, speaking kind words, or offering encouragement.

Aren't you tired of it? Don't we all just want to hear something lovely? Something uplifting?

I do. I'm sure you do. Which is why I am writing this. Yes, this is another blog-post falling into the same critical category as all of the things driving me crazy. But, I hope the end goal is much better.

There is a time and a place to be critical. For instance, while editing my blog posts. I need to judge the use of my words, the clarity of my sentences, and the continuity of the entire idea I aim to express. I need to be critical when choosing books for my children to read, or for my own personal reading. After all, I don't want to put random junk into my children's minds or spend my own precious time engrossed with ideas of little benefit. I should also be critical about the food I feed my family. I want to nourish them with food, not just grab something cheap and easy from a box or can.

Here's where we cross the line. Do I need to be critical about a stranger's blog post and leave a snarky response? Or should I just evaluate politely, maybe even privately? Should I speak up about my friend feeding her child fruit snacks, or should I only evaluate that decision for my own family? Is it wise to preach "organic or die" or should I simply make that choice for myself and influence others through action, speaking up when appropriate situations arise?

It will be helpful for each of us to draw these lines where we see fit. We don't need to hyper-analyze every circumstance we could possibly find ourselves in but what we desperately need is security in our own choices, and guidelines for appropriate behavior. Sounds a little too simple, right? It is definitely simple in concept, but living it out is another thing.

How can we apply this idea of being secure in our decisions, and act well in every circumstance? Is it better to have a detailed method of response to friends who feed their children fruit snacks, or should I simply have a general guideline for how and when I speak out against true atrocities? And mind you, I don't consider fruit snacks to be an atrocity. There are times when we will need to wade through complicated issues, and make important decisions on when to speak up and when to remain silent, but unless you are living in a literal war-zone, you probably don't need to hyper analyze everything you encounter every day.

I suggest we make a continued effort in being the people we want to be, rather than having a set of strict guidelines to keep ourselves constantly in check. This is the difference between following the law and following Jesus. It is better to keep your heart tender to the leading of the Holy Spirit than aiming to mold your life according to a single church policy. It is better to be respectful and kind toward all people than to set your guidelines for who deserves respect and analyze each person you meet. Your joy will be more profound when seeking to obey the Lord in Spirit than worrying about how to keep each rule every day.

It might be easy for you to be critical of this suggestion, citing that some may take advantage of their freedom from the law, but I think it's time we stop concerning ourselves so much about those skirting the law while chasing their flesh, and concern ourselves more with loving the people we encounter. God is able to convict their hearts, far more able than you are. A critical spirit will drive them from your presence, but an understanding heart will engage their mind and make them open to the Spirit's voice.

Like I said, there are times to be critical, but probably not nearly as often as we think. And when it comes to interacting with each other, our criticism is devastatingly contagious.

If you want to see a real-life demo of the spread of this disease, watch your family objectively for a day. This is when I am most discouraged with my failures. When I wake up critical, grumpy, and demanding, I see my eldest son being impatient, frustrated, and bothered by his siblings. I see my second son being discouraged by his own mistakes, and my little girl assuming we are all out to make her life miserable. All of this snowballing from a few small remarks I made, about how they clear their dishes, or how they put away a toy.

This should not be so! Once again, I look at my long-term goal for my family: to know God and make Him known. When I watch my children clear their own dishes, do they see God from what I say? When I wait for my slow-poke to put on shoes, does he feel a loving presence over him? When I am impatiently talking to the cashier at Target, do my kids see me loving a stranger, or does the stranger see God's patient kindness? Or are my constant evaluations of everyone else's behavior and performance fuel for anger and discouragement, creating a divide between myself and others?

I think you see what I am saying now. Our critical spirits cause separation. Our voiced opinions of performance spread discouragement. Our constant disappointment with other people's choices spread a fear of never living up to expectations.

Break the cycle, stop voicing your disappointment, and turn your criticisms into prayers. It's easy to see what we don't like in other people, and hard to admit what we don't like about ourselves. But the sooner we confess our failures and commit to living well despite them, the sooner we are back on the path God has for us.

It is freeing to put that measuring tape down, to simply enjoy the people in our lives without constantly checking to see if they are living the way we think they should. I'm always surprised by how much more my children accomplish when I set aside my critiques. They act better, love more easily, and live with confidence. This form of excellence is what I am after, for myself and my children. But it will never be found when criticism is the reigning spirit. Love of truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, and praiseworthy things are what will bring that joy of fellowship, with my family and with those I encounter every day. Let these things reign in your life more than methods, criticisms, or behavioral expectations. Trust me, you will see the difference and wonder what took you so long!

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