I sat there stunned.
Years ago some leaders and I were meeting with the board of the church from whom we rented meeting space. I asked a simple question about our rent. The pastor, an older man who, despite my natural charm, had never been fond of me glared at me and said, “You know something? I don’t like you, and I don’t like the things you do.” He may have said more, but at that point I was in shock. For a few moments I sat there, “blinking like a toad in a Texas hailstorm,” stupefied. My face that felt like stone about to crack. By God’s grace, I didn’t retaliate. I was too stunned to make a sarcastic comeback.
Ever been dissed, put down, criticized? If not, you will be sooner or later. What do we do when this happens? Dis ’em back? Put a paper bag with manure in it on their front porch, light it, ring the doorbell and run? Or seethe inwardly, replaying the scene, rehearsing all the great comebacks we could have made? I’ve done these things – well, not the paper bag with manure – but I’ve wanted to.
Criticism can be fair or unfair. Sometimes we deserve it, sometimes we don’t. So what do we do when criticized? Here are a few thoughts:
1) Don’t get defensive.
Defensiveness is usually a sign of pride. Jesus didn’t defend himself or go on the attack when he was unjustly accused. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 PE 2.22-23).
2) Examine yourself.
They may be right. Don’t immediately dismiss their criticism, even if you think it’s inaccurate. We all have blind spots and can’t accurately assess ourselves. Jesus said we should assume we have a log in our eye before digging at the speck in our brother’s eye.
3) Don’t dismiss their criticism just because they didn’t bring it on a satin pillow.
Often we reject the truth because they didn’t bring it to us in a sensitive way. Sometimes people share true things with us in sinful ways. We can jump on their sin to sidestep our own.
4) Humble yourself.
If appropriate, thank them and ask if they can give you further clarification. A while back a friend of mine was struggling with me. Another friend suggested I draw him out, take notes, and make my only goal to see my own sin. I did so, and for 2 hours took notes on a yellow notepad while my friend shared the ways he felt I’d wronged him. I thanked him for his honesty, asked his forgiveness for those things I was convicted of and told him I’d pray about the rest of his comments.
5) Remember, you’re worse than any criticism of you.
In his excellent article, The Cross and Criticism, Alfred J. Poirier says, I see myself as God sees me – a sinner. There is no escaping the truth: “No one is righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:9-18). In response to my sin, the cross has criticized and judged me more intensely, deeply, pervasively, and truly than anyone else ever could. This knowledge permits us to say to all other criticism of us: “This is just a fraction of it.” (Spring 1999 issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 17, No. 3)
Anything sinful someone sees in me is but the tip of the iceberg. I’m far worse than anything you say about me, because I crucified Christ. I can’t tell you how much remembering this has helped me when disrespected or criticized.
6) Trust God.
If the attack is truly unmerited and unjust, you’re in good company – Jesus was railed against for no reason. But he trusted his Father to judge justly. It’s not up to us to execute judgment on anyone. God, the just Judge, can take care of that.
7) If sinned against, forgive.
From the cross Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Have you been sinned against as severely as Jesus? Think about this: we committed treason against a loving and holy God, so we deserve whatever happens to us. Jesus didn’t deserve any of the abuse he received, yet he still forgave those who mistreated him. So the first thing we should do when sinned against is to turn to our Savior who poured out his blood for us and cry out to him for his mighty grace to forgive others.
How about you? How has our Lord helped you respond to criticism?