When you are criticized …

by Rosie Adle

Pop quiz! When you are criticized, your first reaction is to …

  1. comfort yourself with assurances that you did nothing wrong. Whew!
  2. wail with loud wailings. You’re a flop and no one likes you.
  3. determine that it’s someone else’s fault. That scoundrel!
  4. take the opportunity to repent, learn and grow, seeking the Lord’s help.

In Ramona Quimby, Age 8 there’s a fad sweeping through the third grade. Kids bring hard-boiled eggs for lunch and crack them on their heads. Ramona is really excited when her mother packs her an egg. She winds up for a huge lunchroom whack. What!?! There’s raw egg all over her!

Stewing in the nurse’s station, she overhears her teacher remark, “I hear my little show-off came in with egg on her head. What a nuisance.”

These words play over and over in Ramona’s mind. Her reactions range from denial: “Show off! Nuisance! Did Mrs. Whaley think she had broken a raw egg into her hair on purpose to show off?” to despair: “Mrs. Whaley doesn’t like me.” And somewhere along the way, she finds another comfy coping pocket: “Her mother was to blame.”

Ramona Quimby cares deeply about what others say about her, and she doesn’t handle criticism well. 

What about you?

(By the way, answers 1, 2 and 3 are all worth zero points. Sorry.)

How do you take criticism?

Several years ago, Tim Keller, the now-retired pastor of a large Presbyterian church in New York City, wrote a blog article called “How Do You Take Criticism of Your Views?” 

In his post, Keller contends that, “the biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart.”

Ecclesiastes 7:9 counsels, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”

Keller urges that we “should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. There is usually such a kernel …”

When Ramona eventually talks to Mrs. Whaley about those critical words, she insists that she was not showing off by cracking the egg on her head. Her teacher accepts this, but presses. “Tell me, Ramona, don’t you ever try to show off?” The kernel! Ramona can’t deny it. “Well … maybe sometimes … a little.”

Everyone’s a critic, but not all critics are created equal

Keller also notes that it is important to consider the wisdom of the critic and the person’s relationship to you. Give each critical word the appropriate weight it warrants. Ramona’s teacher was a part of her life, and she knew her stuff. Critical comments from a semi-acquaintance online or a total stranger probably don’t require the same level of care and attention.

Ecclesiastes 7:5 affirms, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.”

So especially when the rebuke comes from the wise, let it be music to your ears. And even when it doesn’t, look for the kernel of truth to remind yourself that you’re in as much need of grace as the next person.

If you answered 1, 2 or 3 to the question posed above, this kernel hunting expedition will take time. Don’t respond to a critic until you’ve calmed down. Examine your motives and actions and thoughts.

Slow down, rest and pray for an increase in humility and clarity. Before you know it, that kernel of truth will reveal itself. Maybe you didn’t want to look at it, but you’re better off now that you have.

Got the kernel. Now what?

You could bury that obnoxious little kernel in a dark place in your heart. There it can grow into a large plant of self-loathing, or of deep bitterness toward your critics and others like them. But this plant is not of the Lord. It is no fruit of the Spirit.

Take the kernel of truth to the Lord, along with prayers of repentance. He already knows all about it, but He invites you. Cast your anxieties surrounding the criticism on Him, because He cares for you.  

Pray that the spirit of self-righteous pride or resentment or anger or despair over your critic’s words will not take root. Rather, ask that you would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Then you can respond in peace and love, with gifts of grace and the marks of a true Christian as St. Paul describes:

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:16-18).

Deaconess Rosie Adle is an online instructor for the distance deaconess program of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. You may criticize her views if you’d like!  

2 thoughts on “When you are criticized …”

  1. Rosie, thank you for your words of wisdom. We all want to hear feedback about ourselves, but only if it’s all praises, or at least something that doesn’t hurt too much. Taking the time to pray and consider the truth of the matter before reacting is hard. This article came at a perfect time for me, as performance evaluations at my business are getting started. Since I have to evaluate others, your reminder that Christ cares for me, yet knows all my faults, shows me how I can approach not only how I receive criticism, but how I should give it- with care and humility and with the intention of fostering peace. A reading of the Romans passage before each meeting is going to be my new practice!

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