Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Heart Like Katie (an anecdote to a critical spirit)

   I just spent a couple of days with my best friend from childhood.  Let me introduce you...or actually, let Ben, her son, have the honor....
This is Katie.  
We met in 3rd grade when another girl from our class stole her Hello Kitty tape -- a hot commodity.  I stepped in to rescue the tape, and it was history from there.  Our lives have paralleled each other ever since.  We stayed close all throughout school, despite different friends.  We were headed to different colleges, both to play our various sports, but in the 11th hour Katie was persuaded by the University of Puget Sound coach to come run for them instead. There was more than running at stake in this decision. God intended for us to walk those years side by side.  We met our husbands on campus, and after college married within two weeks of each other (she delayed their honeymoon to be in our wedding).  We now both have three boys and can share the unique journey of raising sons.  She is is a GIFT to me, always has been.  But I am not alone in seeing the value of this woman.  From the time we were little, she was the one EVERYONE loved, and I mean EVERYONE.  She has a way about her that makes people feel simply cared about -- for who they are -- ACCEPTED.  She is kindness lived out -- driving a friend with cancer to her appointments, befriending sisters of her sons' friends, speaking gently to her boys and showing them they are valuable, offering coaching and friendship to fellow runners, holding out hope to people by sharing her faith, teaching children at her church's women's Bible study, unifying her extended family with intentional effort, and showing her husband respect and gratitude.  Though she has many qualities that I admire, there is one that stands out from the rest.  For 32 years I have reflected on this quality in my friend, and now as an adult, I think I have it named:  the lack of a critical spirit.  
     Katie has me thinking about the effects of this trait in our lives.  Take a look at webster's definition of criticism:
Criticism:  the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
     When I read this, I cringe.  This is the polar opposite of how I want others to feel around me.  Of course people can't feel comfortable around those with critical spirits -- there is only fault and disapproval to be found, and who wants to be seen for their faults instead of their strengths?  Not me!  And yet, how often am I guilty of this?  How often do I find myself thinking the negative about someone instead of the positive?  If I'm honest, probably more often than I'd like to admit.  Thankfully, God has been turning this soil in my life for some time now.
     Notice in the definition it doesn't say "true" faults, it says, "perceived" faults.  This means that it is a subjective viewpoint.  It starts with how we are seeing others in our own minds' eye.  This is an area I have been working to re-train for the last 5 years.  There has been a KEY concept that I read in a Peacemaker's Ministry resource that has changed how I think about people.  
The concept is this:  Always assume the best about others.
Another way to put it -- give people the benefit of the doubt.  When we are tempted to think negatively, train the mind to stop that thought, and turn it around.  This simple exercise alone will revolutionize how we see and treat others.  For example, when you are slighted by a friend, instead of telling yourself how self absorbed and thoughtless she is, train your mind to say, "she must be struggling with something right now.  It probably has nothing to do with me.  What can I do to show her some extra care?"  Or when your spouse forgets to do something that is really important think, "He is really preoccupied with work.  This does not show a weakness in his character.  I can take care of this for our family or help him do it so that it gets done."  Or how about when you are offended by someone close to you?  What about saying, "I know she probably didn't mean to offend me.  Prov. 19:11 says that it is to my honor to overlook an offense.  I am going to choose to overlook this right now."  See what I mean??  What happens when we start to do this?  UNITY DEVELOPS.  There is more peace in relationships, more servanthood, and Christ is glorified.  Relationships will flourish when this kind of thinking is the rule rather than the exception- with friends, spouses, children, family.  Don't we all want that?  Isn't the journey so much better when we are living out a life of love?
     What happens when this doesn't exist in relationships?  Critcism comes in, takes over, and drives stakes of conflict, strife, and disharmony.  So what is at the root of a critical spirit?  This article from the Peacemaker's ministry answers that question:
        A key step in breaking free from the habit of making critical judgments is to trace them to their source and cut them off at the root. To do this you must deal with your heart. James 4:1-12 describes two of the most common sources of critical judgments. The first is selfishnessWhen others stand in the way of what we want, we strive to remove their opposition by tearing them down and diminishing their credibility and influence in any way we can (vv. 1-3).  
Pride is another source of critical judgments. Thinking that we are better than others, we set ourselves up as their judges and begin to catalog their failings and condemn their actions. As we saw earlier, when we do this we are imitating Satan by trying to play God (vv. 7, 12). Pride can also reveal itself in the inclination to believe that “I alone understand the truth about things.” I think that my beliefs, convictions, theology, and doctrines are true, and I look down on anyone who disagrees with me (cf. Gal. 5:26). Matthew 7:3-5 shows that self-righteousness is another root of critical judgments. When we have done something wrong but we do not want to admit it, one of the most natural things we do is to draw attention to and even magnify the failures of others.
Insecurity, which is a form of the fear of man, is a related root of this problem. When we lack confidence in our own beliefs and positions, and fear that they might be disproved, we often conclude that the best defense is a good offense. Therefore, we attack others’ views and judge them before they can judge us.
Jealousy can also lead to critical judgments. As we see in Genesis 37:11, Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his close relationship with God and his father, and they repeatedly interpreted his motives and actions in the worst possible way. As their jealousy grew, it culminated in their selling him into slavery.
Another cause is self-pity. On occasion, many of us find a perverse pleasure in feeling sorry for ourselves. Therefore, we tend to interpret situations in a way that hurts us the most. One of the best ways to do this is to interpret others’ actions as a form of betrayal.
Prejudice is frequently a cause of critical judgments. When we have preconceived, unfavorable opinions about others simply because of their race, religion, gender, or status in life, we will consistently seek to validate our views by interpreting their beliefs and actions negatively.
Unforgiveness can also lead us to look for the worst in others. If someone has hurt us, and we do not forgive him, we will look for ways to justify our unforgiveness. Finding more faults in the person who hurt us is a convenient way to conceal the hardness of our own heart.
Of course, the ultimate source of critical judgments is a lack of love. Where love is deficient, critical judgments will be the norm. Conversely, where love abounds, charitable judgments should abound (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Wow.  That is a lot to take in. The full article goes into greater depth on how to identify and cure a critical spirit.
     So, what happens when there is a legitimate concern with someone?  A critical spirit is ruled out and there is a true issue at hand that needs to be addressed?  Hear this clearly:  I am a proponent of conflict resolution.  However, I have come to the conclusion, through life experience, that conflict handled carelessly will leave a trail of destruction and damage that is hard to repair.  If there is a true concern that needs to be addressed, I HIGHLY recommend that you read the foundational principles on the Peacemakers website.  Even if there are only a few of these nuggets put in your pocket, you will be better for it, and it WILL lead you in the how of conflict resolution. When we follow Biblical instruction, it works!  
     The challenge before us lies in discernment.  In what areas do we simply need to let go of a critical spirt?  Is there some serious weeding in the garden of our hearts that needs to be tended to?  
     Did I tell you Katie is a national championship runner?  She was in college, and at 40, is still competing in insanely difficult races...and winning them!  Don't you love this picture of Kate and her husband, Jeff, at the Transrockies Run in Beaver Creek, Co?  Their team name was the Caba-nators.  They pulled each other up thousands of feet of mountain to win the race. But that is not the only race she is winning.  She continues to pass on a legacy of great love and grace to those around her, and in God's economy, that counts more than any medal.


  1. Krista! What an awesome and deserved tribute to Katie! I enjoyed it very much and even copied some stuff from the Peacemakers website to study up on. Have a great day....XOXO

  2. You nailed it, Krista. That's always how I've felt about Katie. So beautiful to see it written in words :) Miss you!