Crying in Empty Parking Lots ... Confessions of a Recovering Critic

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

It was a snowy night in January; Lindsay and I were in the middle of a huge fight in the car on our way to small group. The past 9 months had been leading up to this – I had not been myself for quite some time. We both knew it but neither of us were completely sure why. We stopped in some random parking lot. We identified the root of the critical spirit I had allowed to undermine my belief in the local church. I cried a little. Then we drove to small group. That night, I realized I’d been chasing someone else’s conviction

I had drifted down a long, dark, and dangerous river that leads to nowhere – 

an inlet so seductive, 

so unbelievably predictable, 

and so deceptively shallow 

that even the most experienced explorers find themselves mired in its swampland. 

This is a stream called a critical spirit – its current is strong and many have drowned here.

Criticism is an addictive drug. Under its influence we lose inhibitions that keep us humble. It gives us permission to speak freely about all the problems we see while exempting us from becoming a part of solving them. It’s rarely helpful if the end goal is to achieve change. Fighting for change and progress is actually very difficult work – which is why most people don’t do it. It’s much easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize the people who are playing the game than to put yourself on the line by getting involved.

I have spent so much time challenging the old narratives that I didn’t have time to tell an alternative one. I have a tendency to tear down the old house instead of remodeling it; all the while dreaming of a new and better one my resources cannot afford. A critical spirit always works against restoration. And this is the ironic crux of the problem: while engaging with a critical spirit, we can actually damage those things we wish to repair.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

What I am learning is that I am much more interested in creating, cultivating, and contributing than I am in consuming, condemning, and criticizing. I’m learning that I don’t have to invalidate other people in order to obtain validation for myself -- validation is not a limited resource.

I want to be about the celebration of beautiful things – I want to be searching for them, uncovering them, reveling in them, promoting them. I want to stop tearing things down and devote myself to building things up. I want to live out a different story. I want humility to concede that my endorsement plays no real part in the validation of divergent ideologies, methodologies, or pursuits. I want to carry myself with a grace that allows me to walk hand in hand with people I might disagree with. I want God to overthrow those things in my heart that breed a critical spirit in me.

 Alas, one completely unrelated gem from Mark Twain: “I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them”.


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