Stop the critique
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
When i was the director of a not-for-profit organization, I would speak to various community groups almost weekly, telling tell them about the needs of the families my organization served. I had to give press interviews and moderate an interview-style TV show on mental health issues.
Almost every night I'd go to bed feeling uneasy and anxious. Reviewing the events of the day, I often felt I'd talked too much or said something wrong. Alone and quiet, I would think, "I really wish I hadn't said that" or "Why didn't I remember to say this?" Sometimes I'd wonder if I'd been thoughtless and hurt someone else's feelings. This left me feeling constantly defeated and unworthy - even wishing I could stop speaking altogether. Could I get through a single day without feeling disappointed in myself?
During this time, I sought out a means of prayer and study that would help me to respect who I was rather than to look for ways to change or suppress my individuality.
One thing I loved was a depiction of God as a Shepherd. I found it in a poem that portrayed God as washing His sheep clean before they leave the fold each day. The author of the poem, Mary Baker Eddy, also authored the book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," which describes God's sheep (you, me, everyone) as representing the qualities of "innocence" and "inoffensiveness" (see pg. 594).
These images were so helpful. They gave me a goal to meet. You see, I wanted to be like those sheep - innocent when I was talking to people. Innocent in the sense of not intending to manipulate people into giving money to my organization or make them think highly of me. Innocent because I was only trying to inform people (without a lot of my own ego) of the existence of individuals in their own community who had important needs.
I didn't want to offend anyone, especially in one-on-one contacts with staff, clients, friends, even family. Maybe I couldn't monitor every word I spoke; but I could become more aware of my motives. I prayed by asking God to guide those motives - by striving to express "innocence" and "inoffensiveness." According to Science and Health, "Desire is prayer; and no loss can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in words and in deeds" (pg. 1).
I felt that God would help me wash clean any inadvertent mishaps in my speaking. Even if I said something I regretted, my prayer helped me prove that no unintentional mistake, no misstatement, need remain in the thoughts of others. I was able to see this when I would occasionally contact someone to clarify or correct a statement and find that he or she had no recollection of my having said it.
I began each day with an expectation that I would reflect God, the one Mind. This Mind did not talk too much or say the wrong thing. I could express this Mind, which is intelligent and intuitive. Nervousness, which was not a part of this Mind, could not make me talk without thinking.
I started to really challenge this tendency to talk on automatic pilot. It was talking without God's guidance and being prone to going in directions that weren't helpful.
At night, when tempted to give myself a negative critique, I'd think again about the Shepherd's ability to lift my thoughts above ones of self-condemnation. I would let myself be like a little child, tucked in by a loving parent. I came to feel very loved by God. I began to discern ways to improve my actions and speech. These lessons were gentle and encouraging, never harsh or upsetting.
I began to feel a greater confidence in what I was saying each day! Then, without expecting it, I also began to find I was much less critical of other people. Letting myself feel loved, encouraged, and guided by God, I was more patient and less apt to be cranky. What an added bonus!
Be kindly affectioned
one to another
with brotherly love;
in honour preferring
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society