Friday, August 7 2020 - 3:46 PM
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A Brilliant Idea

If you’ve never heard of Gary Smalley and you’re a married Christian, well, you must live under a rock in a desert in Africa. Gary is everywhere. Although I’ve never read his stuff (I’ve only been married for a few years, after all) I’ve sure wanted to hear him speak for just as long as I can remember. His books on marriage have gone far and wide for way more than a very long time.

Well my little dream came true a while back when Gary came to a local church. Doug and I couldn’t believe our luck as early birds on the front row. I’d always heard he was eloquent, but Gary was more than eloquent. He was far, far more than eloquent; he was real. Real, honest and skipping over nothing at all.

He started with his marriage and all these hilarious stories of fighting privately with his wife while smiling at marriage conferences. He told of shrinking her lingerie and watching her drive their motor home into the side of the garage. It was good fun. Honest, vulnerable and delightfully encouraging. Even anointed marriage teachers fumble marriage, how nice to be reminded of that.

Half way in he informed us that all of these glorious stories had one point. It was Gary’s big idea for the whole talk. It was chapter four in his new book, and the code he, after all these years and all these great teachings, has chosen to live by. The place grew quiet. He milked the moment, riding our curiosity for a good few seconds and then he set before us something Doug and I have sought to remember and practice ever since. And what was Gary’s big idea? Live a life void of criticism. That was it. He wasn’t going to criticize anyone, anything, anytime, anywhere.

First he talked about how we’re all drawn to closeness and intimacy—how us humans will come close without trying or planning—that it’s our nature. Second he talked about how we’re all imperfect. Third he brought home how there was only one thing that would keep an imperfect human from being drawn in, and that was criticism. Relieve yourself of criticism and people would draw close to you. He must have said this a million times that night.

And how simple this truth is. And how profoundly true. If there is one thing we need do in relationships—especially the biggie ones like marriage and family relationships—it’s release ourselves from the task of criticizing our loved ones. Sure there’s a place for speaking our truth in love when we ask and are given permission to do so, but wow, what a glorious thought. A doable, conceivable, glorious thought. Love, accept, enjoy and let someone else do the critiquing.

Having applied this (on and off) for the past year since that talk, I can only say that I wish I’d tried this sooner. What has made the transition hard is all the varied ways I’ve slipped in my criticisms—and the process of them being slowly exposed. Many times I’ve qualified my talking at someone as helpful and necessary. But really, all I need do is ask for what I want. This doesn’t take any kind of critiquing at all. Please be patient with me is a world away from—you’re always so impatient, can’t you stop that?

Yes. So there it is. Gary’s brilliant idea. I advise your trying it on any strained relationship and especially on friendships in which you see the other person fleeing the completely other direction. Remember that love awakens love, that we are all drawn together and that closeness and intimacy are inevitable, if the work of criticizing is laid to rest.

Really. It’s that simple.

Clarissa Worley Sproul writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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About Clarissa Worley Sproul

Clarissa Worley Sproul

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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