Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If you have lived very long at all, you know this familiar children’s rhyme is simply not true. In fact, I suspect there are many who would rather be hit with a stone than endure some of the ugliness spewed these days.
While criticism can often be instructive, we’d all be lying if we said it didn’t sting, even a little. I had the blessing of receiving a healthy dose of criticism lately, and while it was hard to hear, I’m thankful for it. When receiving criticism (just or unjust), we have a choice. We can choose to dismiss the critical comments all together, or we can do some self-reflection. In my situation, a bit of a war waged within. I kept hearing two conflicting sentiments.
1. “That isn’t true. You know that isn’t your heart. You would never mean to do that.”
2. “What if it is true? Does someone really think that? How could I have left that impression?”
THE BATTLE IS REAL!
You have probably guessed by now that I chose self-reflection, but only after the hurt subsided, and I had a chance to pray. Through the hurt, we learn. I wish it wasn’t this way, but God loves us so much that He uses our struggles to draw us closer to Him and teach us His heart. As I pondered my situation, God revealed five important actions I must take to move from criticism to a place of peace and healing. I’m well on my way. Step 5 is still in progress. When criticism comes calling—trust me, one day it will—maybe these steps will be helpful to you.
Step 1: Consider the Source
There is a great deal to consider here. Is this a friend? Boss? Co-worker? Family member? Does this person have your best interest at heart, or is this individual trying to hurt you? Has this person criticized you before? Is this person mean-spirited? Does this person treat others in the same way? Is this person a Christian?
I’m sure you can add more questions to this list. Bottom line, it is important to take a moment and really think about the person lodging the criticism against you. It makes a difference in how you move forward.
Step 2: Don’t Take Offense
No matter who lodges the criticism against you, try your best to not take it personally. Satan wants us to get angry, point the finger at others, become defensive, and deny responsibility. He then wants the hurt to fester so that bitterness sets in. If we silently whisper to ourselves, “I will not take offense, I will not take offense, I will not take offense…” we can move to Step 3. Sometimes it helps to quote a little Scripture!
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:1
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; James 1:19
For more, check out this previous blog: Lessons Learned # 3: Do Not Take Offense. https://www.victoriouseducator.com/blog/lesson-learned-3-do-not-take-offense
Step 3: Discern Truth
Once we consider the source and pledge to not take offense, it is time to go to work on ourselves. I believe the first step is to simply get alone with God. I prayed, went for long walks, prayed, read my Bible, and prayed some more. I also really tried to listen to the Holy Spirit. I’m an “out loud” processor, so needless to say, there was a lot of back-and-forth going on!
Once I felt I was beginning to get some clarity, I sought out a Christian friend and asked for objective advice. Notice this was only after my time with the Lord. I think it is worth mentioning that I didn’t talk to someone whom I thought would just agree with me. I truly sought out Godly wisdom, and God made sure I got it. I can’t tell you how long this step will take. It depends on the situation. Stay here until God gives you insight or clarity regarding what to do next.
When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:12-13
Step 4: Determine Action
At this point, the options are endless. It all depends on Step 3. Maybe God has made it clear to you that the criticism is completely unfounded and you have nothing to be concerned about. If that is the case, Step 5 is easy!
If there is any truth to the criticism, we must take some type of action. This could involve asking for forgiveness, changing our behavior, and/or adjusting our environment. Whatever our response, it is important to ask God to help us reflect Him in every situation. I am learning that if I focus my thoughts and actions on honoring the Lord, the changes I need to make are easier.
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31
Step 5: Let it Go
This is probably the hardest step for most of us. If we have been hurt or criticized, it is easy to fall into anger, bitterness, guilt, self-pity, or shame. Of course, this is exactly what Satan wants us to do. However, we know this is not God’s plan for us.
So how do we “let it go”? First, as noted earlier, if the criticism is unfounded and comes from an unworthy source, there is no reason to let this criticism steal your joy. As my husband often says, “Water off a duck!”
However, if you must address an area of criticism, follow-through with your action(s), and then let God go to work! He will reward your obedience and your desire to honor Him. I love this verse in Psalms. Aren’t you glad He won’t let us go?
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37: 23-24
I have to admit this final step may take some time. If we were hurt deeply, we can go through Steps 1-4 and catch ourselves still obsessing about the situation. If this is the case, we may need to go back to Step 3 and do some more conversing with the Lord!
I sincerely hope that your experiences with criticism are few and far between. When criticism does come calling, let’s see it as an opportunity to grow in our dependence on the Lord and give the world a glimpse of Jesus.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2