Thursday, March 10, 2011

Notes on Day 1 of Fasting from Criticism

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Anyone who read the comment Ling left predicting my fast would last until all 3 kids came home can discern that no one in my family believes I can do it either.

Case in point: Yesterday afternoon I took my son to get his new cell phone. He begged me for a phone with a keyboard. I said we’d see what came free with the family plan. At the AT & T store, sure enough, a cell phone with a keyboard and large glass screen came “free,” so I got it for him.

“I love you Mom! I love you Mom!” he kept crying out as he jumped around the store in ecstatic fervor.

The whole ordeal took an hour. We celebrated his “special time” with an Oreo McFlurry and came home.

When he flaunted his new phone in front of an unnamed sister, she literally started screaming and bawling at me all at the same time. After all she’s done in school and home, I clearly only love my male progeny because she’s ALWAYS wanted that cell phone and I’ve refused to get it for her. All this a mere 2 weeks after finally granting her texting.

Rather than screaming back at her, or telling her what an ungrateful brat she is, I calmly said, “Please go to your room if you can’t control yourself.” About 3 times.

She went to her room, re-emerging every 30 minutes or so to scream at me again, where I once again said, “Please go back to your room.”

I’m so proud of myself!

Hmmm. . . I don’t think fasting’s supposed to lead to pride.

But that my decision to fast from criticism led to a once-in-a-lifetime calm reaction to a bawling child screaming about my injustices as a mother, I give God all thanks and praise.

Yet all this begs the question of what exactly is criticism, and what I’m abstaining from. My Mac’s dictionary defines criticism as:

the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes

As I’ve thought about it these past 24 hours, it seems to me that the key word is “disapproval.” All of us have faults. All of us make mistakes. All of us need to grow. The job of a parent is to help our children learn from mistakes, discern right from wrong and make healthy loving choices. You’ve got to point out faults at some point to do the job right.

Growing up with a typical Chinese “Tiger Mom,” I know criticism well. Criticism was ladled out lavishly each and every day of my childhood. I used to wonder if I could go a day without making Mama mad and telling me off, and I don’t think I ever achieved that feat.

Yet at the same time, my mother loves me more than any other person in the world. (This conviction of mine makes my husband mad, and I have to say he comes very close, but my trust and belief in my mother’s love goes deeper than my bones.)

So I grew up feeling extremely loved, but not very much liked. I knew I was lovable, but also that I was rebellious, selfish, irresponsible, unloving to my siblings, and clearly not the filial perfect oldest child my parents expected.

Those feelings quickly translated to my relationship with God so that I perpetually assumed the critical voice that runs through my mind at all times (which sounds suspiciously like my mother’s), was also God’s.

It took really pressing into listening prayer to realize that God’s voice isn’t one primarily of criticism/disapproval, but one of love, encouragement, and yes, at times, conviction of sin. When I take the time to listen to God, His words surprise me that they're so much kinder, gentler and yet incisively truthful than anything I would come up with on my own.

So I want my voice to sound more like God's, than like the screaming shrew of a mother I so often turn out to be.

All this to say, I don’t think I can last the next 46 days (I don’t think I should wildly indulge in criticism on Sundays just because they’re a “mini-Easter”) without sharing my feelings, offering correction/advice/orders. Somehow doing that without the overarching sense of disapproval may be the key.

At dinner last night, this unnamed daughter read us the treatise she had written during her sojourns in her room. For her sake, I won’t include it here. But the chief complaint was that she has worked extremely hard on school, getting along with me, cleaning the kitchen, etc. and I’ve never even given her a runty goat, uh, “good” cell phone for her to enjoy with her friends, while here, her brother has been underachieving, annoying and undeserving and he got a fatted calf.

Despite all the ways I heard my character faults growing up, I’ve always related to the envious older brother in the prodigal son parable more than the wayward younger son. Apparently, so does this daughter.

Although I never yelled throughout our family drama, I can’t say I succeeded at my fast yesterday. My husband accused me of criticizing him for giving me the wrong information in a text exchange while he was in the middle of a meeting. I was trying to explain why I acted on his wrong information, but I guess I still sounded critical, and we ended up yelling a bit over the phone. So failure there and no reason for pride.

I’d love to hear any thoughts on criticism. . .

Meanwhile, 46 more days to go. . .


Ling said...

a) you better hope dad doesn't read your blog and
b) the unnamed daughter was lying through her teeth when she said she and i are perfect.

Micheal said...

SO funny, Kathy. Now I want to buy my kids a runty goat - though they would probably think that was cool.

Tara said...

Ling, I'm touched by your concern for your mother should your father read the blog. And your humility regarding your faults. Maybe you really are perfect.