I was blessed to grow up in a home where criticism was not part of our vernacular. We simply did not criticize. Or complain. Not even when it was "merited". How my parents achieved that, I do not know!

I became a quick learner, though, let me assure you. On my own, I managed to master the art, even falling prey to the idea that criticism was "helpful" to others. How would they ever change their ways, I reasoned, unless I told them where they were wrong? This "skill" grows exponentially when practiced even a bit, I soon learned. The more I criticized, the more things I saw that "needed" criticizing. Once put into motion, criticism can quickly become a way of life, a lens through which all persons and activities are filtered.

A lens which turns toxic. Towards those on the receiving end. But also on the viewer. A critical spirit is difficult to live with as well as to house inside one's own soul.

One day I stumbled on a verse. James 4:11. Pretty simple. It says Do not speak against another.

We can try and "adjust" it to say something else but it translates very clearly -- do not criticize. The verse doesn't have parentheses to include exceptions for poor service or irritating people or trampled rights. It just says not to criticize. I decided I needed to change. It's hard going sometimes but by God's grace, I am learning not to criticize. It's hard to balance times of needed parental correction against criticism. I am constantly in need of wisdom.

Sometimes these blog posts are hard to write. I often falter. I don't get it right. A lot. But I want to share my journey with you. In hopes that you will find some grace and encouragement alongside me.

Take, for instance, today.

I received some really awful customer service today. And with my past corporate background, I am tuned in to know that customer service is an important aspect of training and expectations. When I don't get it, I am disappointed. Today, I was disappointed and then some. After all, I had been a loyal customer of this business for many years. I had given this place a bunch of money. And I was treated poorly by an employee that clearly didn't give a rip. I was tempted to post something on FB just to vent. So that other people could take my side, weigh in, maybe even share their own lousy experiences at this place. Then I decided I'd do the more mature thing and complain to the home office. In fact, I concluded, it was the right thing to do. After all, this place had their website posted and invited customers to contact them so they could provide better service. Yep, I would be doing them a favor.

I pulled up their site, clicked on "customer service" and started my email. I would be polite, but firm. Just state the facts. And convey the error of their ways. My words poured out.

Then that verse above came to mind. And one in the next chapter of James - vs. 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another.

I chatted with myself for a couple of minutes. Wouldn't it be helpful to let the higher ups know what a terrible experience I had today? I had already realized it wouldn't be right to vent on FB, where readers were neither part of the problem nor part of the solution but couldn't I at least complain to, I mean, share with, the home office? This would be helpful..........I was justified......It's the truth......

Heart check. What did I want as resolution? Did I really want this to help those employees to become better people? Or did I hope, even just a little bit, that somebody would get in hot water for what they did? Did I even hope that I would benefit in some way, a discount or freebie or even just an accolade?

I am not saying there is never a time to report bad service. Or to share an unfortunate experience. I do suggest a heart check first. And a prayer for wisdom. And a longing to err on the side of being TOO UNcritical and UNcomplaining.

I didn't send the email.

And I won't tell you who the company was. :)

The power of death - harsh words

Proverbs 15:1b
but a harsh word stirs up anger

Just as a gentle answer gives life, a harsh one has the power of death.

Let's look at how the dictionary defines "harsh" -

ungentle and unpleasant in action or effect; grim or unpleasantly severe; stern; cruel; austere; physically uncomfortable; desolate; stark; unpleasant to the ear; grating; strident;
unpleasantly rough, ragged, or coarse to the touch

That covers a lot of speech. From mild ("unpleasant") to severe ("cruel"). Words along this gamut
have the power to stir up anger...the power of death.

Anger is an emotion that results when some goal of ours is blocked, some desire is unfulfilled. This might be minor like missing out on a good parking place or quite major such as parental rejection. Most all of us have pockets of unresolved anger submerged somewhere in our hearts. Harsh words from another person draw it out and stir it up.

Have you ever had the experience of someone reacting to something you said in a seemingly disproportionate way? You know what I mean - you are having a conversation with your spouse and it turns into a "discussion". (As in, "we aren't arguing - we are having a discussion". Am I reading anybody else's mail???) One of you slips in a "small" jab and the other person erupts. Seemingly disproportionately. Now you know why -- that harsh word was like a drone missile that zeroed in on that hidden pocket of anger. It found its target and stirred it up.

So what's our take-away for today? First, don't use harsh words. They carry the power of death. Seriously. Jesus connects the dots for us between anger and murder in Matthew 5. Don't be the source of harsh words - it's a revelation of what's in your heart. Later in that same book of the Bible, Jesus says "For the mouth speaks out of what fills the heart." (Matthew 12:34) Our problem is probably not that we don't know how to's that we have a heart problem instead.

If you use or have used harsh words, go to the ones who have heard them and make it right. That will carry the power of life.

Last, if you hear those harsh words from someone else, realize that those words (and that person) is not the cause of your anger. They're just the pot-stirrer. Don't react to the one stirring the pot - instead, deal with what's inside.

And to keep those harsh words from taking up residence in your heart and possibly producing additional pockets of anger, choose to fill your heart up instead with LIFE-words from THE WORD.


Sometimes the best word we can speak is to say nothing at all.  Check out these bits of wisdom from Proverbs 17:

vs. 10 -
Whoever covers an offense seeks love    but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
    so quit before the quarrel breaks out.

 27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
    and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
    when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Let's keep quiet sometimes...........we might look wise!