Just after I posted the 5 C Challenge on Monday, I went out to the parking lot of our hotel, where my family was packing up. There, in the driver’s seat, was my teenager (who has his driver’s permit) saying, “Can I drive, Mom?”

The way he looked up at me with those sweet, innocent eyes reminded me of when he was a toddler asking if he could “pway wif his caws and twucks”.

I melted and got in the back seat, so my husband could commandeer the driving coach position. Believe me, I was happy to give it up!

Backseat Driving

As a self-proclaimed Control Girl, I struggle with not being in control. But especially when the one in control is a novice, inexperienced child gripping the steering wheel with wrists that I used to slap and say, “No, no!” Only that doesn’t work so well with driving.

Out of our oldest child’s forty hours of permit driving, I think I participated in about fifteen minutes. But I packed a lot of instruction into that fifteen minutes as I lectured loudly and waved with vivid hand motions, telling her all of the things she should have done “back there”.

She said it wasn’t helping. So I forfeited the drivers coaching to my husband, who is much more calm and rational in the face of acute danger and impending death.

So there I was in the back seat, buckled in and trembling. After about five involuntary outbursts, with me saying things like, “Watch out!!” and “You’re too far over!!” and “That light is red!!”, I remembered something. The 5 C Challenge.

I comforted myself with the thought that I had said the challenge would begin on the 4th of July. (I wanted us to associate biting our tongues with freedom!). So I hadn’t officially tanked in the first ten minutes of the challenge. But, still. How quickly I had forgotten.

I made it my goal to not use any critical words throughout the remainder of the car ride. I prayed that I would be an encouragement to my son. And at one point I was even able to muster a weak, “Good job, Bud.” I made it through the rest of the trip without any corrective or critical words (mostly by praying with my eyes closed and distracting myself with looking down at my phone). Oh the relief when we pulled into our destination unharmed!

Later, when I told my husband about the irony of getting in the car just minutes after I posted the 5 C Challenge, and remembering ten minutes into the trip, I said, “So that’s why I was able to make it the rest of the ride without any critical words!”

He looked at me in amused disbelief. “Really, hon?” he said. “You don’t think you were critical?” Then he dropped his head and started laughing.

Involuntary Criticism

So I guess there were a few panicky gasps and sharp inhales coming from the back seat. But I swear those were involuntary!

It started me thinking about how criticism begins in the heart. It just involuntarily escapes us! When we are expecting someone to fail, to crash, or to blow it, they can sense this whether we use words or not.

God calls his people to be like Him, and guess what? God is not critical. This isn’t because God fails to see all of our past mistakes and our propensity to repeat them. No, God’s mercy isn’t based on us and our potential; it’s based on Him. He shows grace and mercy because He is gracious and merciful! He is the God of all hope!

God wants us to be the people of all hope.

Romans 15: 13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” This verse offers a stark contrast to my backseat driving experience.

People of All Hope

God wants more from us than distracting ourselves with phones or closing our eyes. He wants us to be people who truly are not critical! Remember what Jesus said?

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3)

It’s a rhetorical question. Why do we only see the other person’s blind spot? Why do we only see the ways they’re crossing the center line? It’s because that’s all we’re looking at. We don’t even notice the way our critical spirit is causing stress and frustration.

The irony hit me, as I pictured myself in that back seat. I always think that my harsh critical words are going to help keep the people I love in the center of the lane. I think that if I can only point out all of the ways they’re swerving to the right or left, I’ll keep them safe! But really, my critical spirit only makes them tense and guarded.

In this case, it wasn’t even words–only my sharp breaths that were creating tension in an already stress-filled car. What my son needed, as he navigated morning traffic on a congested road, was help and encouragement. He needed help seeing the upcoming turn and the person on a bike. He needed encouragement from parents who believe in him, and are confident that he can do well.

Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs help. When we have this encouragement and help from others, we can move forward, anchored in the center of the lane. Harsh criticism, on the other hand, causes us to grip the steering wheel and doubt ourselves and make more mistakes. 

Anchored in Hope

I want to be a wife and mom and sister and friend who gives encouragement and help, don’t you? I don’t want to be that critical person who causes everyone to tense up and start making mistakes. But how can I change? Here’s the key.

I can only swap out my critical spirit for encouragement and help when–at my core–I have hope. Not hope in myself to make everything turn out right, but hope in God who actually is in control.


This burden I carry of trying to keep everyone safe by telling them all the things they’re doing wrong? God invites me to lay that down. He does a much better job of it than I ever could. And I get the easy part! I get to offer criticism-free help and encouragement.

My Plan

So here’s my plan. The next time I feel the need to wave my arms and holler to someone I love about how they’re about to drive their lives off a cliff, I will do this instead. I will quiet myself before God and say, “Lord, I trust that you’ve got this. I don’t have to control it. Thank you for this person that I love. Show me how to help them without being critical. Help me to be an encouragement to them.”

Now that, my friends, could turn this ship around. Don’t you think? How is God convicting you of critical words?What difference do you see when you stop criticizing and start encouraging?

Join the Challenge

Want to join the 5 C {Freedom} Challenge, which runs through the end of July? All you have to do is leave a comment or “like” on social media. But you might want to share the post also, and let somebody know. (When you’re the only one who knows about your commitment, it usually doesn’t go so well, right?) Plus, invite some friends to join you! Read more about it here.

Control-Free Parenting??

Are you struggling with how this all relates to parenting? Here’s a post I wrote about when it’s good to take control as parents, and when it’s not.

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