Editor's note:

I suspect many of us can relate to this refreshingly honest piece from Catherine Marshall, in which she discovers in a one-day fast from criticalness that “the federal government, the judicial system, and the institutional church could apparently get along fine without my penetrating observations.” I am personally convicted by the connection she makes between a critical spirit and the suppression of creativity—I think my own “fast on criticalness” may be in order!

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Catherine Marshall first came to national prominence after the death of her husband, Peter Marshall, a native of Scotland who was a well-known Presbyterian minister and preacher in the United States as well as Chaplain of the United States Senate. She wrote a memoir about him, Man Called Peter, which became a best-seller.

Marshall had some training as a journalist. A gifted storyteller, she had great capacity for spiritual reflection and went on to write a large number of books on prayer and spirituality. Her books have sold in the millions. Her novel Christy has enjoyed wide popularity. After her second marriage, to Leonard LeSourd, Marshall continued writing and also became a publisher.

In this selection on fasting from criticalness, notice how vivid she makes the relationship with God. It seems clear that she and the Lord have a lively dialogue going, one that often involves some resistance on her part, a resistance that reminds us of the relationships Abraham and Moses had with the Almighty.

Notice, also, how willingly Catherine declares her faults in a public way. Because she does so here, we can learn something about our own sinfulness.

A Fasting on 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. (Matt. 7:1-2; N1V)

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.

Into my mind crowded all the usual objections. “But then what happens to value judgments? You Yourself, Lord, spoke of ‘righteous judgment’ How could society operate without standards and limits?”

All such resistance was brushed aside. “Just obey Me without questioning: an absolute fast on any critical statements for this day.”

As I pondered this assignment, I realized there was an even humorous side to this kind of fast. What did the Lord want to show me?

The experiment

For the first half of the day, I simply felt a void, almost as if I had been wiped out as a person. This was especially true at lunch with my husband, Len, my mother, son Jeff, and my secretary Jeanne Sevigny, present. Several topics came up (school prayer, abortion, the ERA amendment) about which I had definite opinions. I listened to the others and kept silent. Barbed comments on the tip of my tongue about certain world leaders were suppressed. In our talkative family no one seemed to notice.

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 still I didn’t see what this fast on criticism was accomplishing—until mid-afternoon.

For several years I had been praying for one talented young man whose life had gotten sidetracked. Perhaps my prayers for him had been too negative. That afternoon, a specific, positive vision for this life was dropped into my mind with God’s unmistakable hallmark on it—joy.

Ideas began to flow in a way I had not experienced in years. Now it was apparent what the Lord 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.
Last Sunday night in a Bible study group, I told of my Day’s Fast experiment. The response was startling. Many admitted that criticalness was the chief problem in their offices, or in their marriages, or with their teenage children.

The result

My own character flaw here is not going to be corrected overnight. But in thinking this problem through the past few days, I find the most solid scriptural basis possible for dealing with it. (The Greek word translated “judge” in King James, becomes “criticize” in Moffatt.) All through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets Himself squarely against our seeing other people and life situations through this negative lens.
What He is showing me so far can be summed up as follows:

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, mercy.
5.   Whenever we see something genuinely wrong in another person’s behavior, rather than criticize him or her directly, or—for 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.”

REFLECTIONS

The central idea in fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Now, when we understand fasting from this perspective we see its reasonableness as well as its broader dimensions. The Catherine Marshall reading helps us see these broader dimensions by teaching us about a way of fasting that is not from food but from a critical spirit. Then as she chronicles her day we see the intense spiritual activity she enters, especially as it relates to the young man for whom she was praying.

One of the first things we learn in experiences of fasting is how it reveals what controls us. You see, we cover up with food and other good things what is inside of us, but in experiences of fasting these come to the surface. Did you notice how true this was in Catherine Marshall’s experiment? She learned how dependent she was on criticism even to feel like a whole person and how utterly bankrupt her critical insights were at creating positive change in anyone or anything. She saw what was controlling her, and this released her to begin moving in a new direction, a direction free from a critical spirit. The same will be true for you and for me.

Richard Foster

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Excerpts taken from Spiritual Classics: Selected Readings on the Twelve Spiritual Disciplines (Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin, Editors. Harpercollins, 2000.)