When someone criticizes me or my husband John I think, “Oh, how thoughtful. They clearly love us. They have examined the plank in their own eye and are now graciously pointing out the itsy bitsy teeny tiny spec in ours. That is sooooooo lovely!”
Kind of like surreptitiously motioning to a friend that they have a smudge of ketchup in the corner of their mouth while they’re eating – you know…in a way that doesn’t embarrass them.
Or maybe not. Maybe I stew and think how very unfair life is, and that thing they said I said isn’t what I meant at all, and Come ON already!
Maybe I conduct imaginary conversations in my head where I have witty putdowns and “Ha HA! Take THAT’s!”
Maybe I pray that all the critics would be exiled to Bolivia and that Donald Trump would build a wall so that they can’t get back in.
Below is a letter I received from some people who left our church. I tried hard not to wish they would move to Bolivia because it was as clear and constructive as this sort of letter can be. Truly.
But not all of them are this polite. Whether it’s in the church or Real World, people see themselves as consumers and can feel that it is their sacred calling to be Corrector of all of the Things.
These days my husband has a lightning rod in his office that someone gave him as a gift, a reminder that for better or worse, in ministry we are going to attract criticism. (I personally think the reminder is very unnecessary.)
Sometimes there are just plain Mean People criticizing, and when that happens, our daughters always want to put them on a hit list and eliminate them like ministry snipers for Jesus. And we kind of love them for that.
But mostly there are a lot of broken, messed up folks just like us, doing their best and trying to express their concerns.
One of the reasons I admire John so much is that he is a gracious receiver of constructive feedback, to the point that he actively solicits the opinions of those he knows will push back and disagree with him.
Sometimes I’m a little worried that he’s moved beyond godly to just plain loco.
When I was young I had the delightful dream that everyone would love us and never disagree, or misunderstand, and there were no Mean People. When, in the middle of my dream, I received a knock-out sucker punch, my inclination was to head into a bunker and poke an Uzzi out through a tiny peephole.
But John has shown me better ways to respond when being attacked.
- Look as hard for the truth in the criticism as you would for a winning lottery ticket in the garbage. Sometimes you have to sift through a lot of gooey crap to find the good, helpful stuff God wants you to discover, but it’s usually there.
2. NEVER fight in email. It’s like trying to lip read an argument on tv with the sound turned off, and the picture fuzzy. It’s impossible to convey tone and all the non-verbals that are so important when there is a “delicate” situation.
If someone writes you an angry email, follow it up with a face-to-face meeting so you can question for better understanding. This may require many “Help me help me help me!” prayers so that you don’t get defensive and pull out your Uzzi.
John (the godly one) prays to be “the non-anxious presence” in the meeting.
3. Be humble enough to own your part, ask forgiveness, and let go of the rest. Sometimes this feels like apologizing while pulling a dagger out of your stomach, wiping the blood off and throwing it away, but you can do it with God’s help.
But what if you’re the one doing the criticizing?
We often accuse others and excuse ourselves.
If you’re the one bringing a concern or criticism, maybe consider asking…
“If the roles were reversed, what would be most helpful to me? If I was hearing or reading this critique, how would it land on me?”
What about you? What have you learned from giving or receiving criticism?