Fasting from Criticism: A Lenten Experiment

Catherine Marshall, wife of Presbyterian minister Peter Marshall, wrote a large number of books on prayer and spirituality after her husband died. In her book, A Closer Walk, she writes of an experience that the Lord took her through that broadened her understanding of fasting and brought about revelations that she never could have imagined. The following are a few selected excerpts that provide a sense of her experience and the truth that she learned. As you enter the Lenten season you may want to consider making her prayer of confession your own and proclaim a fast against criticalness.

“The Lord continues to deal with me about my critical spirit, convicting me that I have been wrong to judge any person or situation: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Mt. 7:1-2). One morning last week He gave me an assignment: for one day I was to go on a fast from criticism. I was not to criticize anybody about anything….For the first half of the day, I simply felt a void, almost as if I had been wiped out as a person….I listened to others and kept silent….Bemused, I noticed that my comments were not missed. The federal government, the judicial system, and the institutional church could apparently get along fine without my penetrating observations. But I still didn’t see what this fast on criticism was accomplishing- until mid-afternoon.

That afternoon, a specific, positive vision for this life (a man for whom she had prayed many years) dropped into my mind with God’s unmistakable hallmark on it-joy. Ideas began to flow in a way that I had not experienced in years. Now it was apparent what God wanted me to see. My critical nature had not corrected a single one of the multitudinous things I found fault with. What it had done was to stifle my own creativity- in prayer, in relationships, perhaps even in writing-ideas that He wanted to give me….What He is showing so far can be summed up as follows: 1) A critical spirit focuses us on ourselves and makes us unhappy. We lose perspective and humor. 2) A critical spirit blocks the positive creative thoughts God longs to give us. 3) A critical spirit can prevent good relationships between individuals and often produces retaliatory criticalness. 4) Criticalness blocks the work of the Spirit of God: love, good will and mercy. 5) Whenever we see something genuinely wrong in another person’s behavior, rather than criticize him or her directly, or-far worse-gripe about him behind his back, we should ask the Spirit of God to do the correction needed.

Convicted of the true destructiveness of a critical mind-set, on my knees I am repeating this prayer, ‘Lord, I repent of this sin of judgment. I am deeply sorry for having committed so gross an offense against You and against myself so continually. I claim Your promise of forgiveness and seek a new beginning.’ (Catherine Marshall, A Closer Walk Old Tappan, NJ: Chosen Books/Revell, 1986).

Intriguing to think about isn’t it? How often does criticism invade our thoughts and roll off our tongue? And maybe even more important to consider is what are we missing out on in life because of a critical spirit?   In this season of fasting and reflection God is calling each of us to repent, to change our tolerance, even satisfaction, for criticism and judgment that we might be released into creativity and joy. Are you willing to experiment and see what God will do?