Editor's 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, 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.)

Originally published January 2000

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