January 28, 2015

Dealing with a Critical Spirit

I have a critical spirit. I am struggling with critical discernment, and it is eating away at me. Interestingly, my critical spirit is not turned outward, but rather, it is turned inward. I am critical of myself only, and that means, that I hold myself to such a high standard in behavior, in expectations, and in performance, that it is impossible for me to achieve, to excel, and to overcome. Let me explain...

I am sure you have encountered individuals with critical spirits. Generally speaking, these people are no fun to be around. They are judgmental and complainers. They often sense failure, and they seek to point out every instance of unmet expectations. People with critical spirits are difficult to be around, and they tend to see the glass as half-full all the time. Most critical spirited people are critical about others more than about themselves.

The Bible speaks out about critical judgment. In Matthew, we are told not to judge others lest we find ourselves judged. We know that critical judgments tear down both the receiver and the giver of the criticism. Therefore, we are encouraged to judge rightly, and to always consider our words carefully, using seasoning to soften the criticism, if and when it is warranted.

Dealing with a critical spirit can be a challenge especially when the critical spirit lives inside of you. In my case, I know that one of my spiritual gifts is discernment. Discernment is the ability to determine if truth is really truth or if a person speaking truth is really speaking Biblical truth. Often discernment will accompany other gifts such as prophecy or interpretation. It is vital to discern truth, especially Scriptural truth, to ensure the accuracy of the message, the integrity of the interpretation, and the successful outreach of ministry. However, discernment can turn inward, and individuals with this gift can become hyper-critical of themselves, sensing failure, shortcomings, sin, etc. And, while it is valuable to be introspective, and to reflect on matters of the heart, too sharp a lens can pick apart flaws and characteristics to the point where they are excessively detailed, finely scrutinized, and carefully determined. Yes, what is a God-given beautiful and useful gift can become a monster if used outside the light of Scripture or without complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit for accurate interpretation.

So, I am stuck in this loop of hyper-criticism. It is funny, really, when you think about it. My strength as a student and teacher is my ability to analyze situations and determine outcomes. Yes, I am an expert at solving problems. Although I am not perfect by any means, I am good at what I do, and I know it. However, when I am outside my element, so to speak, and I am working in a manner that is not in my area of strength, I struggle to overcome, to be proficient, and to do a good job. The more I feel I am failing, the more I tend to criticize my every thought, every move, every decision. I focus on the minutia of detail, and often because of my close proximity to the situation, I cannot "see the forest through the trees!" Yes, I am blinded by my close examination and I pass judgement on myself and I come to the conclusion that I am wrong, a failure, a loser (ouch!)

Oh, the joys and trials of living with Carol Hepburn! Buyer Beware!!

As I consider this problem, and how it is effecting my daily life, one thing is for certain: I am in full control of my abilities. I can choose to stop looking inward, and begin to look outward at any given moment in time. I can take the spotlight off myself, and shine it outward (where it belongs) and allow the Holy Spirit to control those inward determinations (Is He not a far better judge than I?) Moreover, I can choose to teach myself an important lesson, and that is that God's grace is sufficient for all my needs -- spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional. God provides for me and He knows me so well. He understands why I hit myself, criticize myself, doubt myself. He gets it, He really does. And the blessed good news is that He has already provided a way out for me. Yes, He has provided the perfect solution for a critical spirit --> His MARVELOUS GRACE.

I am set free through the grace of Jesus Christ. I have been washed in the fountain of His blood. I can never meet His expectations in this life or in the next. No, I am fully incapable of meeting the Lord's standard. Therefore, whenever I impose my own standard and try to live up to it, I am saying, in essence, that my standard is higher than the Lord's. My expectations are better than His. He has already accepted my shortcomings, my failings, my frailty...why can't I? He has already determined what I can and cannot do, so why do I still try to be perfect? I know I cannot do it, yet I stress and struggle to be perfect.

I humble myself before the Lord humbles me. Yes, I must admit my pride is the root of all this trouble. I have become so introspective that I am no longer seeing anything clearly. If I tear myself down, how then I will serve the Lord and build up His church? I won't be able to do it because I will be self-focused on my own faults. If I look outward, and I stop the scrutinizing of myself, then I can begin to see and to meet the needs of others.

I am ashamed of myself for placing such a high priority on my own self-worth, my own self-value. Yes, I am valuable. Yes, I am worthy. But only in the Name of Christ, and only by His atoning sacrifice. He alone is worthy to be praised. Not I. Not Carol. No, I realized today that I am spending an inordinate amount of time complaining and griping about my failings, about my flaws. Yet, I am doing nothing to correct them, to counteract them, to keep them in check. Woe is me, woe is me, woe is me!

Today, I make the choice to start seeing myself as the Lord sees me, to value myself as He values me, and to use my gifts, my talents, and my abilities to praise and honor His Holy Name. I give up, I give in, and I let go. I rest. I rest in His sufficiency, and in His abilities, and in His judgment. Only He is able to judge rightly, to discern correctly, and to interpret accurately. I trust His judgment, not my own. I trust His approval, and not some arbitrary standard I create for myself. I look for His affirmation and encouragement because He knows exactly what I need to be encouraged. God is good, so very good to me this day!

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