Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
This is the last part in a series where we’ve been dealing with the topic of criticism—why criticise and how do you handle criticism. In previous parts we looked at some of the reasons people criticise. In this final part we consider how to deal with criticism.
Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and much of the town after the great fire of 1666. When he submitted his design drawings to rebuild the town hall one of the politicians stated that he thought Wren should add extra pillars to support the roof. Wren, the greatest architect in the region, argued that his designs were adequate to support the roof. However, the politician took his argument to the people and it was decided that the hall must have the extra columns to support the roof.
Many years later, after the politician and Wren were both dead, repairs and cleaning were being done on the hall. Much to the workers surprise, they discovered that invisible from the floor below, the extra columns that Wren had put in were two inches short of touching the roof! Wren knew he was right despite of what the critics said and he refused to allow them shake his confidence in what he knew was right!
Hurtful criticisms are like arrows that pierce us just where we’re most vulnerable. If given by people closest to us, they hurt even deeper and echo at the back of our minds long after they’ve been said. What must we do to handle criticisms that hurt us and degrade our self-esteem?
1. Understand that not everything that people say against you is really about you—often, it is more about themselves.
If you are familiar with the Bible story about Martha and Mary, you may recall how Martha criticised the action of her sister. As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, they came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to them. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked,“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
It wasn’t because Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus that Martha criticised her. It was because Martha was “worried and upset about many things”. Martha was afraid she would not be able to meet the expectations of Jesus and the disciples. Martha was also frustrated that even if she was already exerting so much in what she was doing, nobody noticed her efforts, not even Jesus! Maybe if Jesus just showed up where she was working and praised her for all she had done, Martha wouldn’t have asked for her sister’s help at all. She would have been satisfied claiming all the credits for herself!
But that’s not the way it happened. She received no praise nor reward, and it was Mary who got the attention of Jesus by sitting and listening at his feet! Imagine however how Mary must have felt when Martha criticised her in front of Jesus and all the disciples. Imagine hearing these words, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Martha not only demanded that you help her, you have just been reported to Jesus himself!
If you were Mary, some other words might have also echoed at the back of your mind; words like: how lazy and uncaring a sister you’ve been; how worthless and unreliable you are, or even how unworthy you are to even deserve to be in the presence of Jesus. The truth stands however, as affirmed by Jesus himself, that Martha’s criticism of Mary was not a reflection of Mary’s deficiencies, but of Martha’s own problems and concerns.
As the French writer Anaïs Nin said: “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.
2. Remember that not all people filter out what they say and really mean what they say.
Not everyone is concerned about what they’re saying or even how they’re saying it. Not all people think first before saying something. As a result, they may say things that hurt other people, things they would later on regret or want to take back. People are also not always concerned about how they may affect the feelings of other people. They think about themselves most of the time and may rarely have you in their agenda. As such, remember to not always take things personally. People don’t always intend to cause you harm—sometimes they just don’t think first.
Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
3. Learn to forgive others
No matter how people may try to be careful with the words they’re saying, there would come a time when they’d say things that don’t sound so pleasant, or even hurting to those around them. Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s able to do the right thing all the time. This is where forgiveness should come in. We should remember our human nature and our flaws, and learn how to move on from there. Someone put it this way: “I arise from the ashes of doubt, of depression and of self-pity. I arise a new being—strong, confident, beautiful and without limits!
4. Learn to identify what’s true and what is not about what is being said
There are some criticisms that could help us improve ourselves and see our blind spots. Our problem is that many of these criticisms contain other remarks that hurt us or are not always true. And because we are hurt, we try to disregard everything that’s been said. We must learn to identify the things that could help us improve ourselves and leave behind those things which have no basis at all.
I am no less of a person by flaws that you see in me;
I am no lesser for I am not those flaws.
I know who I am, my flaws and my strengths,
and there is no better person who can handle me but me.
5. Know that even at your worst day, God still accepts you and loves you as you are.
There are some criticisms that hurt us because they contain some semblance of truth about our deficiencies and flaws, things we may be ashamed of or things that we’d rather not reveal for fear of not being accepted and loved. Know that even at your very worst, God still loves you. His mercy and grace is greater than all your mistakes and deficiencies. His love for you is greater than all the weaknesses you see in yourself.
God does not take us only when we are lovable, but more so when we are most in need of love.
6. Know that you have the power to change and to be the best of who you are.
Some criticisms seem to tell us how weak we are, as though we’re going to be like that forever. Remember that this is not true! Know that nobody needs to be stuck in their past forever. We can all move on and do something to steer our lives around for the better.
Lord, teach me to hold my tongue and to trust in you when I’m hurt by others. I want to be able to take the criticism that is helpful and leave alone the criticism that’s hurtful. Lord, I know that I can trust you for your conviction and your patience in me. Amen