For a very long time I’ve felt that I am not a very loving person…
It’s not that I’m mean,
or intentionally hurtful,
or spiteful, or vengeful.
It’s not that I hate anyone or wish harm to anyone.
It’s that very few people come away from an encounter with me and think or say, “Man, that guy sure is loving!” (Yes, I’ve asked people about this).
I guess you could say that I don’t convey a feeling of “warmth” to people. I can be pretty matter of fact, straightforward in what I say, and even convey a critical look with my facial expressions.
It’s also that I am not typically very comfortable in most social settings.
I feel awkward. I stumble over my words (don’t know what to say). I run out of good questions or comments. I don’t feel like I’m “in my element.”
I’m beginning to identify some of the problem… I’m a critical person.
I analyze, assess, and internally criticize everyone and everything I encounter.
That can be a good thing in some respects, but for me it’s become a cop-out, an excuse for why I’m not very loving. It pushes me to be “down” on the negatives I see in people. Then I tend to push away from them, to intentionally be unengaged so that I don’t have to “deal with them.”
No matter how you look at it, that’s inconsiderate at least and even unkind. I’m not being proactive,
Why do I tend toward criticism?
I think life itself has made me that way to some degree…
and I don’t think the “critical thinking skills” I learned in college were too helpful either.
There’s also the reality that I, like everyone else, have my own bundle of self-protective patterns of behavior that I live out of daily… and for me criticism is one of them. I do what I do, in large part, because it’s what I’ve always done. I learned self-serving ways to keep myself in my “comfort zone”… and I do them well. And they are so comfortable that they are practically invisible; I don’t even know I’m doing them.
How am I to overcome such a “natural” but sinful bent?
The only I can root out criticism or any other fleshly pattern of behavior is to do two things:
- Accept what God has done for me in setting me free from this particular aspect of the “law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2-3). That means that I have to actually BELIEVE that what God says is true of me, IS true of me. It’s called faith, trust, believing that God has done for me what I could not do for myself. I can’t take the first step unless I believe that what God says He’s done for me has actually been done.
- I have to learn to walk by the Spirit (Romans 8:3).
But how do I do those two things?
These things seem so “Christian-ese-ey” don’t they? Like a pat answer application you’d hear at the end of a sermon, but then you leave not knowing what in the world to do with it. If a prescription is going to be helpful, it’s got to be administered. So…
Practically, here’s what I’ve come up with after a ton of prayer, meditation on these scriptures, and introspection.
- Paul makes a big deal about how the “law of the Spirit of life” that has set us free from the law of sin and death is true in the realm of our MINDS (Romans 7:25, 8:5-7, 8). Our minds have to engage with the truth of our victory and freedom. So… I’m making a plan to FILL my mind with the truths of God regarding my new identity as a victor over the law of sin and death. That means memorizing and meditating on applicable scriptures (about the power God has given to me to overcome sin, about what it means to be loving, about the kind of attitude I’m to have toward other people), so that when those truths are needed, they are available. But another effect of doing that is that the more I dwell on those glorious truths the more I will come to think along that line day to day. As Paul says, I will be renewing my mind (Romans 12:1).
- Next, I’m following Paul’s logic in Romans 8 to learn how to walk by the Spirit (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5:16-18). That means that I need to begin asking the Spirit of God to make His voice powerfully clear to me so that I am able to hear His leading in the moment when I’m most prone to be critical or selfish. As He helps me hear His urging toward obedience, then I have the opportunity to choose obedience instead of defaulting to my old habits of withdrawal or non-engagement.
It comes down to:
- knowing my own fleshly tendency
- believing the truth about who Christ has made me and what He has done to free me from it
- saturating myself in that truth (being transformed)
- listening for the lead of the Spirit when my flesh would typically be most prominent
- and then obeying what the Spirit tells me to do (in my case, love the person).
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these discoveries in the comments below…