So, the fast. Today is April 1st, and today (and for the month of April), I am fasting from criticism. I am determined to break the habit, and pull out the roots of it. So I am going to be radical about criticism for this one month. I am not allowing even what I would usually call constructive criticism. I want to be clear that I know how necessary it is for me, as a mother, to be able to correct my children, but for the next 31 days I am even going to put a fairly extreme limit on correction (I'll explain that later).
I do want to be clear that I don't believe that I can, in my own strength, conquer this sin in my heart, or that by controlling what comes out of my mouth I can change what is in my heart. (Luke 6:45...for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks). My desire is to pursue God wholeheartedly, and to seek His healing. I'm committed to pray intentionally and specifically each day during my "fast" that God will use this time to transform my heart...to form new "habits" of trusting in Him more fully and speaking words of grace. So here we go.
1. Avoid speaking any critical words. Criticism is generally defined as being related to faultfinding. Interestingly, when I looked up antonyms for "criticism", some of the words listed were "approval", "praise", "compliment", "plaudit".
2. Avoid, as much as possible, correction. This is different from criticism, and yes, I intend this even with my children. My intention is to allow correction only when it involves a safety issue or a clear "heart" issue (obvious sin). If one of the children is, for instance, hanging from a chandelier, preparing to climb out of a second story window, or playing with a knife, I'll have to put a stop to that. If a child is treating someone else unkindly, or generally sinning against someone, I'll need to address it. What I will try NOT to address are any behaviors which are not related to sin...basically all of the stuff that is generally annoying or irritating, and which often really does need to be addressed, but from which no real harm will come if I let it go for a month. Things like someone chewing with their mouth open, or not sitting up at the table, or humming while doing their schoolwork, or holding their pencil the wrong way, or wearing clothes that are dirty or mismatched. I could go on and on with this list, but you get the point.
On a side note, I do know that generally it is good and wise to address all of these "small" issues. It's honoring to others to practice good table manners, to be clean and neatly dressed, and to avoid annoying behaviors. It's important to learn to hold your pencil correctly! It's even helpful to be able to match your clothes. But for an avowed control freak like me, it's just going to be necessary to go "cold turkey." And for my houseful of children, who are far too accustomed to having their every transgression addressed (and often not too gently), I imagine it might be quite a relief. It might even help bring some transforming grace to some of the children who I fear might be following in my footsteps. I'd like to see the children be less critical, and maybe they will follow my example. I know that after this 31 days I will need to be able to correct even these "lesser" issues, but my hope is that I will do it less frequently and more gently. I don't believe it will cause any lasting harm to ignore some of those things for one month. Though you might want to avoid coming for dinner in April if you can't tolerate seeing some open-mouthed chewing. :)
3. When I fail (which I will), I need to have a "do-over" as quickly as possible. Take it back. Re-state it. Ask for forgiveness. I'm not going to make excuses or tell myself that I won't let it happen again. Zero tolerance.
4. Control my face, body language, and tone of voice right along with my words. The right words (or even no words) can be completely negated by a sarcastic, "snarky" tone of voice, and angry look, or arms folded across one's chest.
5. Praise and encourage as much as possible. I want to replace my harsh words with healing words. I'm not going to try to prescribe this (nothing along the lines of "I will say nine encouraging things every 47 minutes"), because my heart is to pray that God would give me His heart and words for my family, rather than to set up an something which might only result in me trying to control with my words.
6. Pray, pray, pray. And expect to see God work. What might God do to transform my heart, and even my home, when I seek Him in this? I believe that He will bless this. My desire first and foremost is for Him, but I do believe that "all these things will be added unto me" (Matthew 6:33). My time at His feet, praying and studying His word, and seeking His help, far outweigh any of the other "rules" I've set up for myself.
I recently read something helpful in Paul David Tripp's War of Words. There's a section in the book called "Choosing Words of Grace" in which Tripp emphasizes "five elements of grace-full talk." They are based on Ephesians 4:29, and here they are (in abbreviated form):
-Be unshakably committed to wholesome talk.
-Consider the person to whom you are talking ("...only what is helpful for building others up).
-Consider the problem you are being called to address ("...for building others up according to their
-Consider the process ("...that it may benefit...give grace to....those who listen).
-Don't let your speech hinder the Holy Spirit's work.
My intention is to write about my progress here over the next month. Not every day, but often enough to help me...not only to stay accountable, but to recognize God's hand and help.
Oh, and one more thing. I am NOT TELLING anyone else in my household about this little experiment. I haven't written on this blog for months, so no one here ever reads it, or is ever on Facebook. If you read this, please don't tell. I think my fast would be much less effective if everyone here knew about it. I want to bless them, but I also think that one of the measures of the effectiveness of this "fast" will be whether they notice a difference without knowing what I'm doing.