"Ignore them like you ignore me"

February 15, 2010 | Conversion, Daily Spirituality | 36 comments

I’m terrible about trash talking. I seem to have some sort of gene that makes me want to criticize everything all the time. Especially in my pre-conversion life, you could tell that I was criticizing something if my lips were moving. Though I didn’t typically turn my judgment to people I knew personally, everything else was fair game. Flipping channels on TV, reading celebrity magazines, sometimes even walking down the street were all prime occasions for running my mouth about who was doing what wrong. I had such a zeal for it that I even managed to monetize it: when I started a site where I criticized pop culture, it got a ton of traffic and is still the most popular website I’ve ever had.

Before I became a Christian, I didn’t even see anything all that wrong with it. Sure, I could have been a little more positive, the thinking went. But as long as I wasn’t running down people I knew personally, it wasn’t all that bad, right?

Since my conversion, I’ve come to see just how wrongheaded that kind of mentality is. Not that Christians can’t ever express disapproval or throw around a little snark, but the more I experience God’s love and draw inspiration from the examples of the great saints, the more I see how nasty and spiritually unhealthy a disposition of constant criticism really is.

And yet changing it has not been that easy.

I tried to take practical measures to change my ways, I prayed and asked God for his grace, I did my best to dial down my trash talking ways, but I saw little improvement. It was such a deeply-ingrained habit! (I recall that even back in the third grade, my home room teacher noted to my parents on a progress report, “She’s very critical.”)

One afternoon at the end of last year I found myself praying about it for the umpteenth time in Adoration. I figured it was going to be yet another occasion of me complaining about my tendency to complain without getting anywhere, but, out of the blue, I got what seemed to be a very clear answer*.

“What am I supposed to do?” I’d been whine-praying in God’s general direction. “Stuff annoys me. It just does. To ask me to ignore something that I think is stupid or wrong or whatever would be like asking me to ignore a train wreck. I can’t do it!”

I was really getting on a roll with this train of thought, when an answer interrupted my mental ramblings like a thunderclap. The phrase popped into mind:

Ignore them like you ignore me.

As soon as I “heard” it, I sat back in my chair. It took me a moment to think through what it meant, but when I did, I was stunned by what I perfect answer it was.

Is it so true that I just can’t ignore things? When you look at my cooperation with the Holy Spirit in my life — or lack thereof — it becomes pretty clear that I’m an “ignoring things” pro. Sure, it takes some work, but I manage to block out God’s voice in my life all the time. Especially thinking back to phases where I’ve felt apathetic about my spiritual life, I see that I actually have an intricate system that helps me ignore the things I don’t really want to think about. When it comes to God, it goes something like this:

  • First, make sure you surround yourself with distractions that make it hard to hear the voice of God.
  • Avoid any obvious opportunities that you might accidentally let the Holy Spirit convict you about something, such as daily Mass or focused prayer times.
  • If it’s unavoidable and the Holy Spirit does slip a word in edgewise, rationalize your way out of it. Ask for 10 different forms of confirmation before you can follow through, pretend you didn’t hear the message correctly, tell yourself you must have misunderstood, convince yourself that it wasn’t a message meant for you. If all else fails, go back to step one and drown yourself in distractions until you forget about it.

And so on. But when I flipped these techniques around, it occurred to me that I actually had quite an elaborate toolset at my disposal for learning how to ignore all the little annoyances of daily life.

Lent starts Wednesday, and I think that one of the things I’m going to focus on the most during this season of penance is carefully noticing which messages I choose to hear…and which messages I choose to ignore.

RELATED

* Lest it seem like I’m constantly getting very clear, direct answer to my prayers, I assure you that that is not the case! It’s just that the few times it has happened have been powerful enough to be worth writing about.

36 Comments

  1. Jackie

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing your experience about the ignorable God. That was a very profound message you got! I haven't read the two books that you mentioned but I did follow your links to your other posts and read through them , so let me see if I understand what you are saying… if you ignored the things that you criticized so easily then you could focus on the things that are invisible(God) and that seemed so ignorable to you?

    "ignore them like you ignore me" That is good news hey!
    Brilliant!

  2. Abbey

    A very wonderful essay! I will be praying for you and all my blog friends during this holy season. May you have a blessed week!

  3. Duane

    For lent this year I am devoting myself to not speaking an ill word of anyone, including myself. I don't know how I will accomplish it, but I'll renew the commitment daily. We are called to be pure in thought and speech. We all fall short but with the grace of the Holy Spirit I know all things are possible.

    Thank you for sharing this and giving me encouragement. Your faith journey continues to inspire others like me.

  4. Kaitlin

    Wow-can't tell you how much I relate to this post. When we watch TV, it's all I can do to keep from criticing EVERY SINGLE commerical I see. "You're so critical" has been uttered out of my husband's mouth far too many times during our short marriage.

    But I especially relate to your three ways of ignoring the Holy Spirit. I've gone through that routine countless times! "I'll just forget about this for now and if it comes back in my head THEN I'll pray about it." "That's probably just my own head-not's God's voice."

    Reading the "game plan" for ignoring in such plain words brings to light how silly and fruitless it is for us to try to ignore the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks for the great post-a wonderful reminder with Lent just two days away!

  5. Colleen

    Wow, I got chills! Thanks for this timely post.

  6. Jamie

    That's funny…and yet a very beautiful post.

    It sounds like you have examined your conscience well to know just what it is you will not only feel great sacrifice through omitting, but also what will help you grow with Jesus. Good fo you!

  7. Michele

    Jen, I totally understand about those rare times of hearing a clear answer, and also the much more frequent times of ignoring His voice. I think God directs our thoughts to give us an answer, just like we asked Him to. I was really blessed by this post-if I were a better writer I could have written it myself. Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Robyn

    This post reminded me of two things I'd like to share.

    The first is an old blog post from two years ago. It's not one of the ones I imported when I moved my blog a year ago, so I just reposted it as if it were a new article: Loving the Unknown Neighbor. Criticizing people you don't know personally is like a failure to love the unknown neighbor.

    The other thing is an answer I learned for a problem that is similar to the answer you learned for this problem. In my case it came from the blog "Waiter Rant," but I've no doubt it really came from God via "Waiter Rant." Waiter, the blog author, was writing about a moment of road rage, when some young stud was racing rudely past him. Waiter was filled with the white hot ire that I'm sure many of us are familiar with. At the time I was struggling mightily with this issue myself—I just could not smother the anger when someone was rude to me (or even PASSED me) in traffic. I knew it was irrational but didn't know how to deal with it.

    Waiter reported that he had a moment of clarity in which this phrase came to him: "I don't have to win." And there it was: the answer to my own issues. I don't have to win. It's okay if the other person "wins," if they race past me or cut me off or commit some other traffic sin against me. I can choose to let them win. This simple phrase became a way for me to let go of the fear that was underlying all my road rage—fear of not being in control, of not winning. I could choose to let someone else win, and yet nothing bad would happen to me.

    I'm (mostly) a model of calm driving now. This realization was really a moment of grace, an occasion of God giving me the tool I needed to overcome an entrenched habit of sin that had control over me. And to me it sounds a lot like "Ignore them." Let them "win" by doing, well, whatever annoying thing they are doing. I hope it helps you! God is amazing in the way he gives us tools and graces to help us serve him.

  9. That Married Couple

    This is so helpful! My husband is also very critical, and I've really started to mimic this. Just last night I asked him to please help me stop this. I've realized that it's not just negativity that's harmful – it's that this really feeds my self-righteousness. Criticism has got to go so I can continue to try to (a) grow more humble and (b) be less judgmental (while not conflating being judgmental with standing by truth). Thanks for the tips on how to do this!

  10. Laughing Lioness

    Excellent post.

  11. Anonymous

    I have recently grown aware to my critical lens as well. I usually don't share those kinds of thoughts out loud but they do come into my mind. Simply trying to be more aware of it has decreased those critical thoughts. I also beleive that people are critical of others the way they are critical of themselves. In other words, if you are hard on others it means you are hard on yourself! So maybe if you are more forgiving of yourself then you will be easier on others. Good luck on this admiral journey of self-improvement!

  12. Laurie

    Or, don't ignore – pray. When you see something that seems worth criticizing, take it to God and have him search your heart to discern whether it's you who has the problem or if the other person could benefit from some intercessory prayer. Respond accordingly.

    This is what I'm learning I need to do while reading the news. I stress the "ing" part of learning because I've got a long way to go. But, from what I've experienced thus far, when I approach it this way I either end up seeing some real growth/pruning in myself or my faith in God's sovereignty gets a tune-up.

  13. Anonymous

    I just finished the Focus on the Family production of the "Screwtape Letters." It was awesome. I read them many years ago, but sometimes the spoken word hits you differently than the written.

    I will be confirmed this Easter. I come from a strong protestant background and have always believed, but have taken God's love and care for granted. I have enjoyed your blog during my journey. It has pricked my heart many times. I allowed myself to ignore His call for many years using my quest for knowledge as a shield. Your written journey has helped to show me that I have taken so much for granted. Just like a little kid that doesn't hear her mom calling her.

    As a bookaholic I had planned to lock up my reading room to get rid of many distractions over Lent. I am going to allow myself a maximum of 10 books. Already on the list are:
    1)Bible
    2)Everlasting Man
    3)CS Lewis for Meditation
    4)Four Loves
    5)Ignation Workout
    6)Lord have Mercy

    I will be locking up my TV and laptop also. Do you have any suggestions to add to my reading list?

    Thank you for your honesty and openness in your chronicles.

  14. mtmom

    thank you so much for this post! SOOO gulty! but you inspire me to do better

  15. The Catholic Wife

    So true! I've struggled with the same issue. The turning point for me was seeing how one person in my life was absolutely critical of everything. It took seeing THEM to see myself, and the journey began. Thanks again for the beautiful words.

  16. Anna B.

    Stuff annoys me. It just does. To ask me to ignore something that I think is stupid or wrong or whatever would be like asking me to ignore a train wreck. I can't do it!"

    this is "ME", at work, as if I'm perfect, nobody does it better than "ME" mentality..
    This Lent I will work on emptying myself, and listening more.

  17. notjustlaura

    Ooouch! Your post reminds me of me! And ties in with one of the themes of a book I finished earlier today. It was Leslie Ludy's latest the name of which I forgot as soon as I started writing this comment … (Can we blame it on my having 'flu?) Anyways, once again you've given me great food for thought. Thanks for writing – I really enjoy your blog 🙂

  18. Fr. Christian Mathis

    I'm pretty sure you just gave me some excellent future homily material. Thanks for your honesty!

  19. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jen, this is interesting. A long-ago boyfriend I had was very critical of almost everyone and everything. At some point, I became very aware of this and felt that he must be very insecure at bottom. I am not perfect but I was always the one sticking up for all those people he criticized. I am a peacemaker by nature so am usually trying to look for the good in people. I can be critical of things like secular media though. Even with that kind of thing, it's important to have grace and remember, we are ALL children of God. The more I look for the child of God in others, the less critical I become. I appreciate your honest self-revelations. I have met you and think you're a wonderfully positive person, so you might just being extra critical of one person in particular — yourself. But we can always do better, and what better time than Lent? I will be thinking of you and praying for you especially during this Lent. Thanks for the blessing you have been to me.

  20. This Heavenly Life

    What a perfectly simple idea. It's the execution that probably hurts, huh? I find myself being TERRIBLY critical of everything around me. It leads me to feeling superior and important, when really, I'm just being mean. Even if the thoughts are just in my head, they're still wrong.

    You're inspiring me to have this clear goal, starting during Lent: Ignore those thoguhts that creep into my head. Replace them with love. Do as Duane, above, is doing: don't speak an ill word of anyone. Or anything. It's a worthy goal.

  21. K. Bernadette

    Jennifer,
    You often afirm for me that I am being prompted by the Holy Spirit because you have posted what he is telling me on many an occasion.

    This lent besides giving up restaraunts and unnecessary shopping, my main focus will be on following the urgings of what I know to be the right thing to do and paying attention to the voice of God and doing what he tells me!

    That probably means a whole lot less food and computer time!

  22. Stefanie

    As usual, spot on, Jen.

    Three weeks ago, I decided that I was giving up 'grumbling about people' for Lent. It's become a bad habit for over a year now. I've got lots of 'good reasons' for engaging in the grumbling — but so what? It only deflates my witness to our Lord.

    As a way of keeping me on track, I've been emailing myself scripture passages against being critical of others. I find them in the divine office readings website. Therefore, when I check my email, they are there in the form of an email I addressed to myself.

    I'll be praying for us to do better, especially during Lent.

  23. NancyinAbq

    Ouch, and thank you for the "iron sharpening iron" post.

  24. blog nerd

    Jen:

    I don't meant to be self-promotional but I have had this revelation recently myself.

    http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7512&Itemid=100

    My revelation concerned the preface of saying: "I'm just venting."

    "Venting" is probably one of the most pernicious every day activities that I can think of. We build little alliances with each other in order to "vent" our frustration with other people.

    What happens, when, inevitably, we become frustrated with the "chosen" people with whom we "vent"—we break that alliance and betray them with the same activity that bound us together in the first place.

    It is my worst characteristic. What I'll say with a merciful eye toward myself is that I think that the source of "venting" comes from being hurt, primally, in some way by the presence and essence of the person about whom I am venting.

    But turning the venom on that person rather than the inadequacy in myself they reveal, is a sleight of hand. Instead of dealing with the weakness they make me feel, I try to empower myself over them by pointing out their frailties.

    The argument I summon up to defend this practice? But I'm RIGHT. They are WRONG. That may or may not be so. I think that we are called to judge people and their actions. But that is a private internal call and not one that needs to be shared with as many people as I can contact.

    The right way to approach this is gratitude. If a person behaves wrongly and I can see it–SENSE it, my job is to reflect that lesson back to myself not to spread my revelation of that person's weakness in order to devalue that person and empower myself.

    There are times when you have to stand up in the face of wrong doing and call a wrong a wrong. But those times are very few and far between and not the every day occurrence I take them to be.

    Awesome post–and I think Duane's Lenten conviction is an awesome one and I may follow suit.

  25. beckygiggles

    This actually got to me in a different way. I tend to put off reading my Bible until the house is quiet or try to get up extra early before the kids do (and fail more often than not) because I feel like it's something that needs my full attention, but I can read something fictional with the TV on in the background and absorb it all with no problems. Because I choose to ignore the background noise. Surely I could do the same while reading the Bible. All I have to do is choose the focus and ignore the rest.

  26. Gina

    Wow. That IS profound. I'm going to give that a lot of thought. Thank you.

  27. Anonymous

    But, Jennifer, how do you know whether this voice was Christ speaking to you or you just speaking critically to yourself? It sounded a little like the voice you described that formerly took jabs at movie actors.

    Sometimes, the Catholic trick, I think is just see something/someone and make a conscious choice not to let it anger you, even if it formerly really ticked you off. That's a discipline. Not an injustice, just an irritant.

    Holiness does not come from pretending something is not there, but rather, recognizing it without having a sinful reaction.

    A good friend of mine once said after Mass to me, "A person can only make you angry with your permission."

  28. Jennifer G.

    Your blog speaks to me so directly that I know the Holy Spirit is involved. I love how you write and I appreciate what you have to say. You make me laugh until I cry and you floor me with how you describe me to a T in your posts regarding room for growth. I can relate to you in so many ways and I am learning so much from your insight. Good luck in your Lenten journey and PLEASE keep the blog a rolling! 🙂

  29. Deb

    I could have written the first part. I am very much the same. I get extremely critical and impatient with just about everyone and everything. I was lying in bed just last night while my husband did one of the things that irritates me the most. He sets five different alarms (he's paranoid) and insists on testing them all every night. It drives me absolutely insane. But last night I kept trying to talk to myself and tell myself that patience is a virtue and no harm was coming from it and I said some Hail Mary's. I'd like to tell you it got better, but I still wanted to elbow him in the ribs. Reading this post this morning, just told me exactly what I need to do. Thank you.

  30. KimP

    Lovely, post Jen, and I'll be trying to do the same this Lent. But I have to echo Roxanne – don't just shift that tendency to critize to start running down yourself. You deserve the break from the critical voice too!

  31. Laura

    I've been thinking a lot about the whole complaining issue, which is really just another side of the same coin as being critical of everything. Neither of them make for very uplifting company.

    It got so bad around here, that I came up with NaNoCompMo – National No Complaining Month! Check out my blog (www.hsjoy.blogspot.com) and follow along. It really is a lot harder to do than it seems!
    God Bless.

  32. Aliocha

    As for me, the best advice I have been given regarding criticism was a very simple principle: "Criticise only if you are willing to help to correct what you have criticised."

    That rule immediately excludes criticising people you don't know, or only know through the media. And if you think of it, wisely so, since nothing positive can come out of that criticism.

    As for the people you do know, if you commit yourself to help them change the things you criticise, if you suddenly start seeing their flaws and sins as somehow something you are also partially responsible for, you suddenly become much more benevolent, patient.

    So I wouldn't advise you to ignore it. If you see something that is wrong, (let's say that your neighbours' kids are annoying little brats that disturb people by ringing on their door when their babies are asleep, for instance), criticising it is the easiest thing to do.
    Ignoring it is the second easiest.When that option is available, which is not always the case.
    The hard thing is to correct them. To find out that they are lonely kids, with way too much free time and no one to look after them. That they are good kids that only need a chance to make themselves helpful.

    I think we can learn a huge amount of things by taking this viewpoint.
    You might find out that the one teacher of your kids that you have always found unfriendly, is a deeply wounded person by the death of relatives she has never been able to overcome.

    Or that the arrogant and incompetent prick just-out-of-college-businessman you have met through your work is in fact a former science student that had to take over his father's business because of his father's health problems, and is having a very rough time "filling his shoes".

  33. Michelle Potter

    I can be very critical, too, and my husband has asked me to give up "talking bad about our kids" for Lent. I objected — I NEVER talk bad about our kids!! Well, not to anyone except my husband, every day when he gets home from work and I give him the full run-down of everything they each did wrong all day long. Sigh.

    This is going to be difficult — thanks for the tips on ignoring!

  34. b9thsymphony

    Hi. Thanks for sharing this. It meant a lot to me because I can relate to your situation but never really had a chance to dwell on it. Sure it's on my mind but a lot of times, I forgot to pause and pray for it. Now you've inspired me to do so.
    I'd like to share you're post with my friends in facebook. Thanks.

  35. Judith

    Me, too, Jen.
    Thanks for the post and the insight that, like you, I am a full-blown ignore-er of God and of my own sins ….. Grist for the mill this Lent.
    Thanks.

  36. Annie

    I've always had a critical streak in me and only now in my 40s have I really started to tone it down. I am finding that I am much happier and more serene.

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