Thinking About Criticism

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Criticism cuts. It is harmful. It destroys a person’s sense of well-being. It affects the confidence one has in oneself. Often, the critic does not realize the damage they do. Criticism only helps the critic, not the person being criticized.  It says more about the critic than the person being criticized. Often, the critic struggles with their own sense of self-worth. They feel empowered by criticizing someone else. They feel empowered by destroying another person. However, the pain will still hurt years later.

So why do we criticize others? Why do we tear down when it would be so easy to build up?  Is criticizing an indication of our internal struggles? We reach out and tear others down and somehow that is supposed to make us feel better about ourselves.

Also, why do we react so hurt when others criticize us? Shouldn’t we expect and anticipate that to come in a fallen world? Satan is the father of discouragement (John 8:44). Why would one of God’s children criticize another (Gal. 5:15)? Why would one of God’s children be so hurt by criticism? God is our Father. He loves us. He tells us differently than the critic. Yes, He is honest with us, but we know He loves us. He will not hurt us or tear us down. Why would we let Satan use us in such a way? Don’t we know Satan is using us? Do we realize he is using us when we take the criticism personally? When we let it dissuade us from using our gifts? So, could it be criticism is not the problem, but how we respond to it?

The challenge is not the criticism but how I respond when it comes. I get to choose what I do with the critic and their criticism. The critic may hurt me and may have been wrong. But I get to determine who I am and what I can do. I get to choose how I go forward.  It is important to remember that the criticism does not define who I am. It is God who defines me. If I can remember that God defines me then I can also see that the criticism is a smoke screen for what another superficially thinks. The one criticized always has options. If I am the one criticized, I get to choose what I do with the criticism. I can let it destroy me. I can move past it and move forward. I can learn and grow. I get to choose.

Criticism is such a momentum killer. Criticism embitters. Something is going to fill our hearts. It can be bitterness, hurt, hatred and anger.  Another option is love. Love fulfils the royal law; “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Gal. 5:14). Love also fills us with the fulness of God (Eph. 4:14-21). Love offers such a better promise. Love is so much easier. Yes, it can leave us vulnerable, but it does not have to destroy us.

Criticism can consume us. It cuts us at our core. It is an attack on us personally, but it doesn’t have to be. We get to choose what we think about (Phil. 4:8). When we change the way we think, then we can change the way we interpret what others say.

It is important when dealing with criticism that we surround our self with people who are encouraging (Gal. 6:2). That does not mean they never help us see our weaknesses. It means they let me know they value me and care about me (Gal. 6:1).  So, when they do seek to help us, we know it will be for our good. It is also important to have people who will lift you up (2 Tim. 1:16-18).  When we are attacked, we need someone to stop it and be our advocate.

However, is it possible that criticism cuts because of the way we view it? If we feel good about our self, then what others say is not as a destructive. If we can attain peace of mind, others do not get to tell us how or what to think. If we can keep our self in a good place mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically, then what others think or say does not matter as much. So, the key to dealing with criticism, and overcoming it, is not what we do but who we are. Who we are and what we think about our self is tremendously important. If we have no reason to fear being critiqued, then the criticism will not cut so deeply. Whether criticism destroys us or not is all about how we interpret what is said or done.

Is criticism something we invite? Criticism is not a one-way street. Our attitude and behavior can also invite it. If we are not consistent in our life with what we say, then the door is open for criticism.  We must be as consistent as we can in message and life.

Criticism can be muted when we first remember how fragile life is. If we realize how fragile life is, then why spend the time tearing each other down? Why pick each other apart?  Also, criticism can be muted when we see each other as people. God so loved people, not objects (John 3:16). We invest our lives in people, not as territory to be defended at all cost (2 Cor. 12:15). Perhaps this is one of the greatest reasons to refrain from criticism and one of the greatest keys to overcoming criticism.

As I write, I am beginning to see things more clearly. One, criticism is not about me. It is about others; what they think, how they feel and their opinions. Second, I am beginning to see that I do not have to be held prisoner by the criticism. Third, I am beginning to see I can be free and let others have their criticism and I do not have to ingest it. It is not about me. So why do I make it about me?

The best way to deal with criticism is to strive to be like God. I can only strive to please Him. Critics will have to live with it themselves. I live for Him and love Him.

Critique or criticism? Encouragement or being critical? I guess it all depends on the motive. Overcoming criticism can be one of the hardest things ever.  It leaves scars. One is never the same afterward.  To change, it takes a change of mind.

by Rickie Jenkins

P.S. Next month I will be back in my office and be able to record these once again. Sorry for the inconvenience. Recovering from the fire in our building has had be displaced since January.