A number of years ago a women’s ministry was promoting a 30-day Husband Encouragement Challenge for Wives.
“I’ll try it,” I determined. For 30 days I was to avoid criticism and daily speak encouraging words to my husband.
The result surprised me. Halfway through the challenge my husband, Steve, got upset after I encouraged him for that day.
“What’s this all about?” he asked. “I know the economy is bad, and we’ve lost some money, but I’m not going to kill myself. I promise.”
My tendency in marriage too often has been criticism. When I stopped for a time, Steve became extremely concerned. How sad.
I have battled the inclination to criticize for as long as I can remember, especially with family members. God has helped me make progress in eradicating this hurtful habit, but I still slip back into it. Somehow I have felt if I criticized a behavior I didn’t like, the other person would change. But that has not been the result. Instead criticism has put a wedge between me and others.
Why would a person want to move closer to someone who communicates, “You’re not doing this relationship right?” or “You’re not living life correctly?”
Along the way a quote from Oswald Chambers has given me a different perspective.
God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.
Instead of speaking a criticism out loud when a fault in another person comes to mind, I can pray about it–that God would intervene.
And He has.
I’ve noticed I tend to criticize myself in the same way I criticize others. And just as I do with them, I believe that by speaking a put-down of myself out loud or over and over in my mind, this will urge me to change. But it doesn’t. I become discouraged, and self-loathing can set in.
Ephesians 4 has some instructions to help me continue to overcome a critical spirit and move me to a place where I can be a person who consistently builds up:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 29, 31-32 NIV
Too often criticism comes when I’m holding onto bitterness toward others. Self-criticism comes when I won’t receive God’s forgiveness for myself. With the Lord’s help I’m letting go of resentments. What a weight this has taken off of me.
I’m making progress in the area of criticism. My husband no longer gets worried when I speak an encouraging word to him. Noticing what people do right instead of focusing on faults has become easier.
The closer I draw to the Lord, the more I see that He is a God who builds up. When I’m struggling with the urge to criticize, He brings to mind the good in the people around me to speak out loud to them—qualities I hadn’t noticed on my own. What a difference that has made in relating to others. I’m enjoying closeness I never thought possible.
How about you? Do you tend to criticize instead of encourage? Bring this problem to the Lord and let Him teach you how to build up rather than tearing down. Mastering this art will restore the joy in your relationships.