Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I recall reading about a woman who was reflecting back on her school years. She had been quite happy until a teacher criticised her in front of the class.
She felt humiliated and carried that experience throughout her lifetime—I wonder how many of us have similar experiences to that. Criticism which we never forget. So a good question to ask is: How do I deal with criticism? Why is it so hurtful?
One morning a mother asked her children if they would like to pray. And promptly her little 3-year-old son began, and he said, Dear Jesus, please help Sissy to stop sucking her thumb. Amen. And immediately, Sissy began to pray, And Dear Lord, help my brother to stop reminding me.
Criticism begins at an early age. Have you ever criticised anybody? If you haven’t, raise your hand. I think we’ve all been criticised and we have all been criticisers. And youngsters are not immune to criticism. Dale Carnegie said this in his wonderful book How to Win Friends and Influence People: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”
“It takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.” Dale Carnegie
I think it’s generally true that most people do not like to be criticised. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and co-workers sometimes offer very unwelcome advice on what they think we need to fix. You may also be one to volunteer your own views on what someone else needs to correct. As a matter of fact, some people might even enjoy pointing out the flaws and mistakes of others. It is not often that we meet someone who enjoys being criticised.
Two types of criticism
The first type is when someone expresses their disapproval. This is the type that can be the most hurtful. Parents might express their disapproval of your choice in career, spouse or lifestyle. People may criticise how you dress or the way that you act. It can be a very unpleasant experience. Has it happened to you?
The second type involves pointing out your flaws and mistakes. No one is perfect, yet many imperfect people seem to find it extremely easy to ‘let us know’ when we mess up—as if we don’t realise it ourselves!
In many cases, we already know a lot of what people are saying to us, and the fact that they’re telling us what we already know makes it that much more annoying. But it can also be painful if we didn’t realise what we were doing wrong—then it is just embarrassing.
The message and the messenger
You don’t have to take criticism to heart. What you can do is guard you heart, but listen carefully. I know that you may not like the person who is criticising you, or the tone and method it is given in. Try to separate the message from the messenger and take criticism for what it is worth. Don’t let it drag you down or make you insecure. Use it to grow as a person and improve the different areas on your life. Remember that some of it is just hurtful and should be disregarded—but don’t throw it away if it’s a chance to make yourself better.
Criticism can drag you down. Moses found this out as we read the Old Testament in the Bible. He didn’t want to be a leader; he knew that he would have to pay the price of criticism. In the final analysis, Moses agreed to lead a band of slaves and release them as God wanted him to do. Their lot in Egypt had been bad. Their children had been massacred. They had been driven in a terrible way by the oppression of their cruel taskmasters. You would think that Moses would be praised for his leadership.
On the contrary: the story of the wilderness journey is one in which Moses is constantly maligned. You would think that the people would appreciate his courageous leadership. Instead they cry out,
If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3).
(To be continued in Criticism Hurts – Part 2)