This post was written by a family friend of ours, Jen Yoder. She is the author of a creative writing curriculum, Creative Word Studio. I did this in school and am very impressed with the quality of it! Feel free to contact her on their website.
If I asked if you have experienced criticism in your life, how many of you would quickly tally up a mental list of times people have criticized you? We don’t easily forget those times of mental anguish we’ve experienced. Often times, the criticism we receive is in areas that we least expect it. Perhaps we have a passion for teaching younger children or reaching out to the elderly. When our noble work is attacked with someone putting supposed motives and actions on our heads, the pain feels unbearable. Criticism can also come toward our family, our youth group, our church. These moments of feeling “squashed” knock our breath out of us. Or perhaps criticism comes from being vulnerable and asking a trusted person, “How am I doing, really? What should I be changing?” We are devastated when even this trusted person doesn’t understand our hearts and has preconceived ideas. How do we navigate this awful sea of criticism?
Criticism is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. It is often given verbally directly to the person, but occasionally comes through gossip trails or from body language. A discussion on criticism may feel heavy to you. Please keep reading, God can turn harm into good.
As humans, we find it easy to be critical of others. We know the slogan, “we are most like the people we criticize”, but it’s hard for us to actually believe it. We often think we would never stoop to such bad behavior or questionable actions. Maybe we wouldn’t at that point, but I’ve lived long enough to discover that I end up doing exactly what I criticize in other people. It’s humbling and urges me to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.
As “criticizers” we need to consider a few things before we breathe a word to the person, and even to others. There are exceptions if you talk to your mother or your husband about a personal issue in seeking out advice. But otherwise, keep your comments to yourself. Criticism that leaks out through friends does get around!
I have five steps for to think through before you offer criticism.
- Do I know the whole story behind the action?
- Have I prayed about it for several weeks?
- Can I think of three compliments that I could give them before I offer criticism?
- Could I tell this person what I think face to face?
- Would God be honored by my body language, voice inflections, and words?
If you answer no to even one of these questions, then don’t offer any criticism. Since we normally don’t know the whole story, seek first to hear it. If you answer a “yes” to number one, then most likely your relationship with that person is strong enough to handle a face to face talk about the issue.
As the “criticized”, working through the emotional aftermath takes courage and humility. Trust is broken between friends. It’s easier to retreat and create boundaries. The devil likes to plant seeds of bitterness in our hearts and harass our souls with insecurities, but the story doesn’t need to end there.
I have five steps for working through criticism that we’ve received whether it was intentional or not.
- Ask God to infuse your heart with His love so you can love the criticizer.
- Acknowledge and change the truth in the criticism and “blow the chaff (untruth) away”.
- Believe truth about yourself. “I am chosen, loved…by God”. Criticism doesn’t define who you are, God does.
- Pray for, compliment, and remain engaged with the person who criticized you. Distancing yourself from those people and relationships often creates a bigger problem. It wasn’t Jesus’ way to ignore and walk away from people who disagreed with him or didn’t like him. Remember that the person’s critical words likely stems from not knowing the whole story.
- Daily lay the burden of what people think of you at the feet of Jesus.
It’s possible to overcome the discouragement of criticism. When I see someone who is secure in Christ and in who they are, unapologetically living in freedom, yet able to take vibes from people, I am refreshed. If you sense someone is displeased with something you are doing, ask them about it. We never should be callous and insensitive to other people’s feelings, traditions, opinions, and directions especially if they are in authority over us. Instead we should always be open to growth. Chastisement from God comes through His Word, but most times through other people. It is good for us to stay humble and meek. If you are in any kind of position of leadership or influence, you will most assuredly receive criticism. Count it a blessing and strive to live peaceably with all men.
Plato says, “We must learn not to hold our hurts and waste our time crying, like children who’ve bumped themselves.”
Romans 12:10 says, “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honor preferring one another”. Verse 14 says, “Bless them which persecute you: bless and curse not.” And verse 18 says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men.” Let’s obey these commands with all our heart.
I know from experience criticism is not easy to wade through. However, God gives us His wisdom, His love, and His Spirit. If we “run after” the fruit of the Spirit, we will be able to overcome the negativity of criticism and live with our faces toward Jesus, ready for His return.