A Lenten Offering
March 9, 2011 | My Jottings
I had my first full day of being out of bed yesterday. My voice is barely there, but I do think I’m slowly on the mend, and I’m going to assume that I talk too much anyway, and my voice going on a little vacation is just another sign pointing to a change or two that needs to happen in my life.
Yesterday I went to Community Bible Study for the first time in a few weeks too — it was so good to be back. At the opening, my friend Sue shared something that went straight to the core of me and I knew I needed to respond. Sue shared about a personal experiment the late author Catherine Marshall (she wrote Christy and A Man Called Peter, among many others) conducted years ago, about giving up speaking any criticisms for one day.
I found an account of this online and quote it here:
A Fasting on Criticalness
by Catherine Marshall (1914-1983)
“The Lord continues to deal with me about my critical spirit, convicting me that I have been wrong to judge any person or situation: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-2; NIV)
One morning last week He gave me an assignment: for one day I was to go on a “fast” from criticism. I was not to criticize anybody about anything.
Into my mind crowded all the usual objections. “But then what happens to value judgments? You Yourself, Lord, spoke of ‘righteous judgment.’ How could society operate without standards and limits?”
All such resistance was brushed aside. “Just obey Me without questioning: an absolute fast on any critical statements for this day.”
As I pondered this assignment, I realized there was an even humorous side to this kind of fast. What did the Lord want to show me?
For the first half of the day, I simply felt a void, almost as if I had been wiped out as a person. This was especially true at lunch with my husband, Len, my mother, son Jeff, and my secretary Jeanne Sevigny, present. Several topics came up (school prayer, abortion, the ERA amendment) about which I had definite opinions. I listened to the others and kept silent. Barbed comments on the tip of my tongue about certain world leaders were suppressed. In our talkative family no one seemed to notice.
Bemused, I noticed that my comments were not missed. The federal government, the judicial system, and the institutional church could apparently get along fine without my penetrating observations. But still I didn’t see what this fast on criticism was accomplishing—until mid-afternoon.
For several years I had been praying for one talented young man whose life had gotten sidetracked. Perhaps my prayers for him had been too negative. That afternoon, a specific, positive vision for this life was dropped into my mind with God’s unmistakable hallmark on it—joy.
Ideas began to flow in a way I had not experienced in years. Now it was apparent what the Lord wanted me to see. My critical nature had not corrected a single one of the multitudinous things I found fault with. What it had done was to stifle my own creativity—in prayer, in relationships, perhaps even in writing—ideas that He wanted to give me.
Last Sunday night in a Bible study group, I told of my Day’s Fast experiment. The response was startling. Many admitted that criticalness was the chief problem in their offices, or in their marriages, or with their teenage children.
My own character flaw here is not going to be corrected overnight. But in thinking this problem through the past few days, I find the most solid Scriptural basis possible for dealing with it. (The Greek word translated “judge” in King James, becomes “criticize” in Moffat.) All through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets Himself squarely against our seeing other people and life situations through this negative lens. What He is showing me so far can be summed up as follows:
1. A critical spirit focuses us on ourselves and makes us unhappy. We lose perspective and humor.
2. A critical spirit blocks the positive creative thoughts God longs to give us.
3. A critical spirit can prevent good relationships between individuals and often produces retaliatory criticalness.
4. Criticalness blocks the work of the Spirit of God: love, good will, mercy.
5. Whenever we see something genuinely wrong in another person’s behavior, rather than criticize him or her directly, or – far worse – gripe about him behind his back, we should ask the Spirit of God to do the correction needed.
Convicted of the true destructiveness of a critical mind-set, on my knees I am repeating this prayer: “Lord, I repent of this sin of judgment. I am deeply sorry for having committed so gross an offense against You and against myself so continually. I claim Your promise of forgiveness and seek a new beginning.”
* * * * * * * *
As I sat there yesterday morning listening to Sue share about Catherine Marshall’s experiment, I was thinking that today, Wednesday, March 9th, begins the season of Lent. I didn’t grow up in a church that observed Lent, and because it has never been part of my faith observance, I’ve never given it a lot of thought until recent years.
I know a woman close to my age that radiates joy and unshakable peace and happiness. She’s a follower of Jesus, and she has her share of life’s struggles and sorrows just like anyone else. But she is always shot through with a beam of true joy that sometimes nearly takes my breath away. It’s not phony, it’s not showy, but it’s really noticeable, because people are lacking joy these days and hers seems in abundant supply. Anyway, this woman observes Lent each year to prepare her heart for Easter. She knows Easter is the most wonderful celebration for Christians and should be experienced as such. Egg hunts and spring dresses and hats are wonderful, but how many of us have ever celebrated Easter and after the day passed, just knew that its import hadn’t sunk in like we wished? Easter is why we have hope. Easter gives us reason to get up in the morning. Easter puts an eternal set of lenses on our eyes, if we will but participate. I have many times wished that my observance of Easter were more special and meaningful, and less anemic. When the woman I’ve mentioned spoke of observing Lent in order to prepare her heart for the coming of Easter, I took note.
When I was little I always thought Lent meant you just abstained from something and God would like it. I have known people who gave up chocolate for Lent, or television, or other things they considered bad habits or vices. This year, I do feel the Lord put on my heart something to set aside for the 46 days of Lent (books), and I will obey. But in addition to not reading any books except my Bible these next few weeks, I’m going to take Catherine Marshall’s lead and fast from criticism.
For me, being critical doesn’t just encompass the words I say. It would also deal with the looks on my face, whether or not I sigh in exasperation or roll my eyes (which effectively tells a person how utterly inept I think they are), and it is also about my body language. These are all things I want the Lord to change in my life. A critical spirit is deeply rooted in pride, and I want to approach the end of my life in humility, not in pride.
Sue shared yesterday that while she may not be an outwardly critical person, she still finds herself dealing with critical thoughts. And the best and shortest answer to dealing with those kinds of thoughts? Immediately pray about them, rather than letting the criticisms spin around in your head. Even a short unspoken prayer “Lord, please help that person with their ______,” could be a better choice than verbalizing a criticism.
I realize that there are times when we need to address things…corrections need to be made…feelings need to be expressed. I still think I have a lot to learn about doing these things with gentleness and in a building way, rather than in a destructive way. I need lots of help. It’s a good thing God’s resources and patience never run low!
We probably all know people who have a tendency toward criticism. They’re not usually fun to be around. You guard yourself around critical people — they don’t feel like a safe, comforting place to land. I grew up in a family where some of our members had criticism worked out to the finest detail, and I’ve seen the fruit of this in my own life. I would like to lay the axe to that root of that tree.
“Set a guard over my mouth O LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3.
I am in the autumn of my life. There is still time to be who I’m supposed to be, with God’s help and love. I know I was not created to be a critical person. That is not the legacy I want to leave. I want my Lenten offering to the Lord to mean something. “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” I want it to do a work in me.
Will any of you join me in Catherine Marshall’s experiment? Will you, for one day, go on a criticism fast? Or do you think you could try it for one week? Or are you feeling the nudge to give up criticism for all of Lent? I think any offering is significant. If you will take part in any small way, will you leave a comment here and share? Later, I think it would be encouraging to know what happens in our lives as a result. As you read above, Catherine Marshall experienced tremendous changes. I am looking forward to being changed as well.
God bless you!