This is such an interesting topic, right? Honestly, I don’t know many people who love to receive criticism. Actually, I don’t know any. But sometimes it’s necessary, especially as it pertains to our Christian relationships. The Bible tells us to encourage one another to love and good deeds, Hebrews 10:24. We are told to rebuke the one who persists in sin, 1 Timothy 5:20. Proverbs 15:31 tells us that if we listen to constructive criticism we will be counted among the wise. And Proverbs 12:1 says, literally, that if we don’t, we’re stupid. That’s pretty plain.
So, how do we take criticism graciously without letting our pride get in the way? Because it definitely is our pride that makes us take offense to what someone might have to say to us in way of correction. And when we take offense is when we get defensive and feel the need to lash back in order to defend ourselves. Taking offense always makes us want to defend ourselves. It’s the way we save face. But when we defend ourselves, we have just shut down listening. We can’t really hear what’s being said, and then of course, we definitely won’t consider that we might need to make some changes in our life, or behavior, or attitude.
Here’s something that we need to take into consideration when someone has given us some criticism. And that is, “It’s not you, it’s them” and “It’s not them, it’s you.”
So, let’s looks at “It’s not you, it’s them.” What does that mean? Well, sometimes we get criticism from people who are speaking out of their own woundedness. Their comments aren’t really constructive, but are meant to be destructive, to be harmful. Perhaps they’re jealous of your success, or they feel like they need to cut you down to size a bit so you don’t get too big for your britches. The comments that come from this motivation of the heart are usually not true. They’re meant to hurt. I talked about hurt people hurting people in Episode number 83. It’s what we do when we’re wounded from past experiences and we haven’t gotten healing in that area.
So what do we do here? Well, I think it’s fair to consider the source. If you’re aware that the one giving the criticism or critique is doing so because of their own wounds, it might be easy to get angry and bite back out of self-righteousness. But, instead, when we know someone has unhealed wounds, it gives us an opportunity to extend grace and show them compassion in our response. I can do this when I know the criticism is really not about me at all. It’s all about the fact that they’re hurting, and they don’t have the healing to love freely. Their ability to have healthy relationships is limited by their hurt. They are not free. I have great compassion for people who are not living a life that is free to love and to receive love, a life that is overflowing with joy and hope and happiness, the abundant life Jesus said He came to give us.
And, hey, maybe you don’t know if the one that’s giving you all this criticism is wounded and acting out of their hurt. It’s fair to assume, here. But one thing I like to do is to ask the Lord if what they are saying is true. Instead of lashing back or trying to defend myself, I go to God about it. This is an exercise that He taught me many years ago. See, I haven’t been really good at taking criticism myself. I’d automatically get defensive. But I know it’s because I had some wounds of my own that weren’t healed. I was afraid of looking stupid. I was afraid of correction because, to me, that meant rejection. I was afraid of not doing things perfectly. It meant something. About me. That I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough, or spiritual enough. That I was wrong.
But what God was trying to teach me in those moments was that He wanted to have the last say about the criticism. As in, He wanted me to bring it to Him and ask Him, “What do you think about that, Lord?” so that He could tell me, “Nope, let those words roll off you like water off a duck’s back. Nothing to consider here.” Or, He might, with great love for me, tell me there was some element of truth to the criticism, even if He didn’t approve of the method of delivery. And then I could hear the criticism with new ears. Ones that were open to hear, and a heart willing to change.
Now, in light of the criticism, if you believe “It’s not them, it’s you,” then you’re going to need to assume that there is at least some truth to what they’re saying to you. This is difficult because people are usually pretty convinced that their way is the right way and we’re not running around looking for people to show us any different. It’s a true heart of humility that easily does this. And the human heart, at its core, is anything but humble. It’s full of self-righteous pride. But the Bible says that God opposes the proud and haughty heart, Proverbs 16:5 and James 4:6. Being humble is something that God is calling us to all the time. And if he’s calling us to humility, then it must be possible by the power of His Spirit within us. One of my favorite scriptures to tell myself is Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Micah 6:8 says that we are to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. To clothe ourselves with humility and to walk humbly in life is a decision of the will, but also something we must depend upon God for help to do day by day.
So, that’s why it’s necessary to have the attitude that if someone is saying something to you that corrects you as some form of constructive criticism, we’re going to assume that there may be some truth to what’s being said. We at least need to open ourselves up for that possibility instead of shutting down with defensiveness.
What if you were able to be so disconnected from the criticism in a personal way that you were able to get curious? As in, what if you didn’t make the criticism mean anything about you personally, like I used to, and you were able to say, “Tell me more.” Whoa! That might totally throw someone off, huh? That would confuse the heck out of them. Because who actually asks to hear more criticism? But you certainly can do this if you’re not taking the criticism personally - you’re not making it mean you’re wrong, or stupid, or inept.
It’s possible to be open and curious if you’re wanting to grow and change. If this is where your heart is, then you’re able to ask for examples to help you understand better. Maybe you’re able to ask for suggestions from their perspective as to how you could change. Listen, this takes great humility. But let me tell you the second part of James 4:6. Yes, it says that God opposes the proud, but that He give grace to the humble. Your act of humility, to humble yourself under the critique, is where you will find God’s grace abundant. Grace to hear the criticism, grace to love the one who brings it, and grace to want to grow and change if God says it’s warranted.
So, friend, how do you handle criticism? Are you healed enough to take it? Are you willing to humble yourself so that you can find God’s grace in the growth and change? I hope considering, “It’s not you, it’s them” and “It’s not them, it’s you” will help you next time you find yourself face to face with criticism.
If you’d like some help figuring out how to take criticism, I’d love to be your Life Coach and help you do this.
I’ve put a link in the show notes for a free 30-minute call just so we can see if we’re a good fit to work together and show you how Life Coaching would work for you.
Also, don’t forget to get the downloadable guide that complements this episode. It’s like a little Life Coaching at home.
Have a wonderful week, friends. See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life.