It sneaks up on us and taps us on the shoulder. Then, one criticism leads to another and before we know it, we have developed a critical spirit. Fault finders are experts at criticizing others and, unfortunately, seldom find anything else.
What is a critical spirit?
A critical spirit is an excessively negative attitude with harness in judging, says author June Hunt. The Bible says "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him." Matthew 12:34-35
Hunt continues, "A person with a critical spirit gives unfair criticism by fault finding, nit-picking, carping, quibbling and complaining."
However the opposite is true of a caring spirit. A caring spirit is helpful, thoughtful and has a heart that wants to help, not judge. Everyone of us have the need to have caring people in our lives, someone to be attentive to our dreams and disappointments, joys, sorrows and successes as well as failures. Those people in our lives should be cherished.
One of the first Bible verses I taught Kristin was "The Lord is good. A stronghold in the day of trouble." Nahum 1:7. For some reason her voice always rose high as she said the word trouble. We should rise up when those we know are in trouble. Sadly, whether out of a need to feel significant, though it be a warped significance, there are those who kick those who are in the throes of trouble.
How do we distinguish between a critical spirit and a caring spirit? I know we all want to be in the latter category rather than the former. Hunt writes:
"A Critical spirit condemns the person as well as the action. A caring spirit condemns the action, not the person.
A Critical spirit focuses on the faults of others. A caring spirit on self-examination.
A critical spirit ridicules others, but a caring spirit encourages others.
A critical spirit assumes the worse without first hearing from the accused. But a caring spirit assumes the best while waiting to hear from the accused.
A critical spirit tears others down without seeing their unmet needs. A caring spirit builds others up according to their needs.
A critical spirit responds harshly when criticized or accused by others, but a caring spirit responds appreciatively without quarreling when others give advice, and seeks to correct personal misbehavior.
Lastly, a critical spirit lacks mercy toward others, but a caring spirit responds with mercy toward others.
A critical spirit usually develops from the home environment. We've all seen the page-long list of what a child lives with is what he learns. Sadly, many times a child grows up and carries with them this spirit of criticism. It goes with one of my oft used statements of "hurting people hurt people." However, the root cause can come from other places, too. People, in general, have the inner needs of love, significance and security. Criticizing someone else makes us feel a sense of significance - a sense of power, but only for the moment.
Hunt states that the wrong belief is: "My sense of significance is enhanced when I point out the wrongs of others. Like riding a seesaw, the more I push others down with criticisms, the higher I rise above them, and the more powerful I feel. The fact that I am right justifies my criticism of others."
However, the Bible says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else." Therefore, the right belief is: When I am critical of others, I am only exposing my own sin. God thought I was significant enough to create me with his plan and purpose for me. Because Christ lives in me, continually extending his mercy toward me, I will reflect his mercy by caring for the hearts and lives of others rather than criticizing their attitudes or actions.
Maybe you sense a critical spirit in yourself and you no longer want to be a ditch dweller. slinging your derogatory mud. Begin today to climb out of that ditch with one kind word at a time. The Biblical principle I use in counseling is the "putting off/putting on" principle. That is when we must put off a behavior, we put on a good one. Put off speaking critically, and put on speaking kindly. I heard once a quote that said, "I'd rather trust and be fooled a thousand times than to misjudge one person."
Begin today by practicing compassion for others and drawing out the heartfelt needs of others. Offer the gift of acceptance and God-given worth in others. Praise the positive in folks and refuse to wound with words. Strive to meet the unmet needs and rely on God doing it through you for the success of your putting off a critical spirit and putting on a caring one. Practice the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Matthew 7:12
(Kimberly Morgan, MA, is a wife and mom in Elkins. She is also a counselor with Cornerstone Christian Counseling and Kristin's Hope. She can be reached at 304-637-1109.)