In our small family, I’m the problem solver. I see a need, figure out what needs to be done, and set out to accomplish it. The quicker the solution is found, the better. So when I started becoming aware of my sharp tongue and harsh words to my husband Lou, I concocted a plan to extinguish the fire in my mouth.
A little secret pact with myself seemed to be the answer. I asked myself, What if I went 30 days without speaking a single criticism of him? Maybe this would get me in the habit of speaking words of love instead of words tainted with bitterness. What would be his reaction? Would he even notice? Or would he be so taken aback by my lack of condemnation that he would fall catatonic?
Over the years, my husband has had the misfortune of living with a hypercritical wife. I’m not exactly sure where it comes from, but I know it’s pervasive. It seems to seep into every facet of life. Before marriage, it didn’t seem to be a big deal. I could look in a mirror and find my every imperfection at lightning speed. I could rehearse my emotional and spiritual failings ad nauseum. But this was personal, internal, and didn’t affect anyone except me. But when my life partner entered the mix, life got messier. My husband became a fresh target.
It started innocently enough with comments like, "You know, Lou, maybe you should wear pants to work today instead of shorts." Or, "Baby, I think it would best if you did this instead of that." In my mind I was just trying to help him make better decisions—things he possibly hadn’t thought of without me voicing them. Doesn’t every man need a little female input? We’re supposed to be their helpers, right? I was helping and he didn’t seem to mind too much because he’s pretty laid-back. But, before long, I upped the ante.
Soon I felt the need to throw my two cents in on nearly every aspect of his daily life. He acted like he was listening. But I soon noticed that much of the time he was choosing to dismiss my suggestions and do his own thing. Incensed, I couldn’t believe he would actually think there was a better way to accomplish whatever task we were discussing at the time. Really, the nerve!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t shy in showing my displeasure and soon evolved into the wife that Solomon speaks of in Proverbs 19:13: "…a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping." And when I think of an incessant water drip, I think Chinese Water Torture. The kind where someone is strapped to a table and cold water is dropped on the same spot on their forehead until it drives them mad. Yep, that described me, a form of torment. There had to be a better way.
Then a particularly convicting sermon at church led me to give the month-long criticism fast a go. It seemed far-fetched, but what I was doing didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything of value for anyone. So it was worth a shot. The first few days were easier than I expected. Being nice was actually making me feel calmer and more peaceful.
I found myself thinking, Hmm. When I’m not focusing on and pointing out others’ faults or trying to convince them to do it my way, I have more tranquility? Interesting.
During these first days, I read Galatians 5:22, one of the most well-known scriptures that mentions kindness. "But the fruit of the Spirit is … kindness." I was reminded that I’d been given kindness when I turned over my life to Christ. It is a gift living within me. Something that I struggled so hard to find in my marriage was residing in my very being this entire time! Amazing.
I decided to dig a little deeper, so I looked up kindness in its original language and a portion of the explanation jumped out at me. In Lexical Aids to the New Testament, kindness is described as "the grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would have been harsh and austere." As much as criticism had ruled in me, the type of kindness Jesus provides promises to pervade my whole nature. Although I had tortured my husband with the constant drip of condemnation, if I let kindness grow, God’s grace in me could mellow the harshness brought into our relationship.
I started to wonder, Is it really possible? Can I be the type of woman that emanates this type of grace? Oh, I hoped so. But as days seven and eight crept up on me, I began to have serious doubts. What seemed relatively simple a few days earlier started taking much more focus and intentional effort. As the compulsion to critique my husband began to grow, I became aware that I couldn’t do it on my own. I had reached the end of what I alone had to give. In order for me to fight against my natural instinct to criticize, I would have to depend upon the Lord—a moment-by-moment dependence on God.
I would like to say that I really dove in and made it the whole 30 days, but I only reached about day 15. Life’s daily to-do’s kept me from really giving my fast the attention it deserved. But I learned a few lessons in those two short weeks that I’m praying will be life-changing.
The importance of being intentional. In order to make big changes in my life and marriage, I must be intentional and dedicated. It turns out I’m fabulous at creating a plan to fix what’s wrong, but my follow-through stinks.
God’s help is required. Willpower only takes me so far. I need the supernatural power of God to change me from a woman who uses words to torment to a woman who uses them to mellow and sooth. I need to plug into my Power Source, asking Him daily for the ability to do this thing. Moment-by-moment.
The effort is worth it. The biggest lesson I learned is that all the effort it takes to be gracious is worth it. For two weeks, joy reigned in our house. Most days my husband seemed more relaxed and my soul felt at ease, simply because I chose kindness over criticism.
Going a full month without speaking harshly to my husband would’ve been quite an accomplishment. Really. As I reflect back on my fast, my prayer is that I will simply be a woman full of grace for a lifetime, to traverse the pages of Scripture and find my way from chapter 19 of Proverbs to 31 and be the wife that "brings [my husband] good, not harm, all the days of [my] life" (Proverbs 31:13).
Oh, God, let it be.