The Critical Voice
The dreaded time had arrived. Afternoon break was over and homework time began. The kids dispersed to their separate spaces. My youngest shared that she was going to be working on her spelling and she needed the computer. This always amazes me! Spelling, in my day, involved writing your word three times and making sentences with the word. Now, my daughter and this lovely computerized voice interact for 20 minutes a day. Oh, how times have changed! It was the beginning of the week so I got myself settled for an unexpected slice of time to read my book (not a lot of help is needed from me in our house on a Monday). I was getting lost in a great story when my ears perked up. I heard my little one calling someone names. Growing up, we were not allowed to call each other names or speak unkindly, so as an adult, it really catches my ear when I hear it happening. I listened for a moment and heard, "So stupid!" As I paid closer attention, I realized the words she was speaking were directed at herself.
My heart hurt as I listened to this amazing girl speak such unkind, untrue words to herself. My daughter is actually incredibly bright, so to hear her say those words was shocking. I walked in the room and asked her what she said and why. She let me know that she didn't know how to spell any of the words and was so angry at herself. She reiterated to me how "dumb" she was. When I asked her how long she had been working with them, she told me she had just gotten them that day. She concluded that she was somehow deficient because she did not naturally know how to spell her new words (words that I still misspell as a 40-year-old woman!).
The Critical Spirit Is Destructive
I was devastated. This intelligent, joyful, beautiful person was so critical of herself, and the criticism had no basis in the truth. It got me thinking about how detrimental that critical spirit is. What was once likely given to us to help us make life-saving choices has now turned into an ugly weapon we use on ourselves and others. It not only keeps us from seeing the beauty God created in us, but can also destroy it. As I watched my daughter and wondered where that critical spirit came from, I was quickly convicted that the apple did not fall far from the tree.
Jesus tells us that "the critical spirit has a way of boomeranging," (Matthew 7: 1-2, The Message). As I began to observe the critical voices around my house, I discovered my daughter wasn't alone. I heard it voiced by my older daughter as she worked on her hair in the morning time or chose her outfit for school. I heard my son speak unkind words to himself when he was running late. I was watching that verse happen right before my very eyes all through my house and I was shocked to find that the loudest and most self-critical voice came from me. How often do my children here me say to myself, "What is wrong with you," when I make a mistake? Or, "I'm such a mess," when I am cooking? Or, "I am so dumb," when I misplace something? How often do they see a critical response instead of a compassionate one? Sadly, as I began to pay attention, I discovered it was more often than not.
Getting To The Heart of What's Behind Criticism
Recently I have been going through an e-course called The Gifts Of Imperfect Parenting by Brene Brown on COURAGEworks. So I felt a little equipped for this moment and I sat with my daughter and talked her through the feelings she was having. I asked her quite simply why she expected herself to know the words when she hadn't even studied them. I told her we all make mistakes, but that doesn't mean something is wrong with us. It just means we're learning. I pointed out that some of my worst mistakes lead to some of my best discoveries. And then I asked her if she felt a lot of pressure to be perfect. I wasn't surprised to hear that she did. As my arms wrapped around her I shared that I, too, sometimes felt that and it was so hard. It makes me feel anxious, scared, and like I don't want to do anything. She could really relate.
As I sat practicing compassion with my sweet girl, I was reminded of the most important thing I learned in that parenting course: that all of that communication, although wonderful, was pointless if I didn't start practicing it with myself. In a blog Brown wrote she says, "Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting." That truth is hard but oh, so important. The place to start dealing with that critical voice is me.
Replacing the Critical Spirit With Compassion
I've found myself really changing as I think about how I speak to myself. Am I having that same loving conversation that I had with my daughter in my head when I make a mistake? More often than not, the answer to that is no. But slowly, I am noticing that critical voice and replacing it with compassion. It usually sounds like, "Of course you did that! You were distracted," or "Oops, that was a silly mistake." It's funny I've noticed something amazing. When I am full of compassion, it's so much easier for me to give it away to others.
I can't say that we're all fixed and none of us are critical anymore. Criticism is a habit that is practiced individually, in families, and most definitely culturally. Somewhere along the way we have all decided we're judge and jury on ourselves, each other, the world, and we see that speck in each other's eye so easily. But I try and remember it's just a habit. With attention and intention, it's one that can be easily replaced with the most beautiful habit of compassion, as I saw that day. And surprisingly, just like that critical spirit has a way of boomeranging, so does that compassionate spirit. My daughter was able to go to school the next day and when her friend was really struggling, she was able to reach out and let her know she understood and it would all be okay. And now sometimes when she's doing her spelling I hear her say, "Oops, I made a mistake." Those words are music to my ears.
What About YOU?
Do you hear that critical voice in your life? What do you hear? Is it boomeranging all over the place? Unfortunately, it's a voice that starts speaking while we are very young and may become the soundtrack of our lives. Learning to replace it with compassion takes time and focus. And we've got some resources to help you refocus and learn that new habit. Try listening to the Song of the Week and ask yourself where that voice has wormed its way into your life. Make a conscious effort to do our series challenge - it works! Post our weekly verse somewhere as a reminder that the critical voice goes against our greatest command to LOVE one another (that includes ourselves!!). Connect with us and let us know how you are doing and how we can be praying for you. You are so incredibly LOVED! Our prayer this week is that you feel His love and grace, more than you ever have, as compassion begins to boomerang around your world.