It might not surprise anyone, but I hated chemistry! The corrosive acid we used during our experiments in school burned everything it touched. It ate a hole in a block of wood, etched deep scars in the metal basin, and permanently marred my favorite sweater! Although we wore goggles and gloves and used special beakers to hold the caustic liquid, we were still hesitant and afraid. Our teacher’s warnings had put a healthy fear of injury in our minds. We performed the necessary steps as quickly and carefully as possible, relieved when we could rid ourselves of the poisonous fluid.
Now that I’ve stepped out of the classroom and into the laboratory of life, I’ve detected a parallel to that acid we experimented with in high school. Psychologists call it a “critical spirit.” It doesn’t have a warning label, but its characteristics are similarly destructive.
- Critical words create holes in fragile souls.
- Critical minds etch deep scars in families, marriages, and friendships.
- Critical hearts mar forever the beauty of faith, hope, and love.
Threatening to steal the joy from everything that isn’t perfect and everyone who falls short of its expectations, a critical spirit is a ravenous beast that devours an honest effort, loving gesture, or kind deed without ever looking back.
A critical spirit poisons every relationship it embraces, because the pressure of an impossible standard is too heavy to bear. Those in relationship with someone who possesses a critical spirit are always trying, and always falling short. Eventually, they stop trying altogether.
There are three poisonous roots that support a critical spirit:
- Thanklessness. Instead of being grateful for every gift, action, or kind word, the critical spirit weighs everything against an imagined standard of unattainable perfection and grumbles when it falls short. It complains about what it doesn’t have, instead of appreciating what it does.
- Selfishness. Critical spirits reside in people who expect and demand to be served. They believe their needs should be met first, their desires attended to quickly, and their opinions honored.
- Insecurity. Critical spirits build themselves up by tearing others down. Pointing out everyone else’s failures, errors, and flaws makes a critical person feel smart and superior.
Thankfully, there is a CURE for a critical spirit!
The habits of tearing others down instead of building up, criticizing instead of commending, and griping instead of being grateful are hard to change, but not impossible. “Nothing, you see is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, MSG).
The opposite of a critical spirit is a GRACIOUS spirit. People who possess a gracious spirit have a deep understanding of God’s mercy and goodness. They’re quick to recognize their own need for mercy, and willing to extend mercy to others because they’re thankful for how God has dealt with them. They’re also well aware that the way they treat others will, in large part, determine how God will treat them. James 2:13 warns that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement” (NIV).
Just like I took proper precautions to protect myself from the acid in my 10th grade Chemistry class, I also want to protect myself from the corrosive power of a critical spirit. By recognizing it as sin, replacing grumbling with gratitude, fighting selfishness, and believing I am valuable and loved, I’ll be well on my way to becoming a person who builds others up instead of tearing them down.
And that’s the kind of person I want to be toward my family and friends!