Introductory Note:

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, A 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.

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 – 2N1V)

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:

  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, 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.”

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

Text First Published January 2000

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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