Faith, life, relationships, Uncategorized
Comments 8

Listen to Your Critics {How Criticism Can Help You Hear Jesus}

“A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool.

{Proverbs 17:10}

Emotionally spent, I closed the door and walked downstairs.

photo credit: thinkstock

I picked up my dog-eared copy of the The Verbally Abusive Relationship book.

I’d read through this book three times, shared it with friends and prayed for those I’d loved to find freedom from verbal abuse in their marriages. I don’t battle the crazy-making and despairing confusion of verbal abuse personally, but so many people I’ve loved do, every day. I’m not a counsellor, but I do want to be a good, empathetic friend. By reading this book with them, I had found that we all have the ability and tendency to verbally abuse another person, to power-over someone with a weaker spirit.

I was familiar with the methods of verbal abuse, thanks to this brave book, and now, after a rough two-hours with a “friend” I felt bruised in my spirit and so confused.

Had I been confronted in love or simply filleted with criticism?

As I paged through the book and rehashed my recent conversation, my thoughts became prayers. Could I really be all those terrible things my friend suggested I had become? Was this list of problems truth that I needed to face and change or merely someone’s opinion?

As I prayed and cried and deliberated, I realized there was a little truth to the accusations, yet it didn’t resolve in my mind why my friend had chosen to isolate me and criticize me so deeply, so personally.

I knew the relationship was doomed, at least for a long while. There was no spirit of reconciliation that night or meeting on a common ground where we could move forward together. I simply had become the most recent punching bag for my friend’s anger to pelt. I was very sad.

I made three hard choices, but they made all the difference.

1. I resolved to write down every critical remark, every ding on my character that had been discussed that evening. I presented each one to God, our Righteous Judge, and asked him to reveal to me if there was anything in me  that substantiated the claims set against me. I prayed over that list for weeks.

2. In addition, I asked a couple of trusted people who did not know this friend what they thought of the accusations and if they agreed in any way.

3. I was committed to not become what my friend had told me I was. I was committed to listen to the accusations, seek the truth of God’s word and find the reality I was supposed to live in by listening to God’s truth.

It was a lonely time. I felt like I was trying to construct a house in a dark cave. I hated every minute of that season of my life.

This isn’t how friends behave! I’d shout when I was home alone. How could these people (for there were more by this point) decide I was unacceptable, that I’d changed and they didn’t want to even try to reconcile? Weren’t we all Christians; shouldn’t his Holy Spirit heal this?

Little by little, the hurt subsided. And as it did, the healing grace came in the cracks and sealed me up in His Spirit. Jesus met me in the truth of his word and he taught me how to listen to his voice.

You see, the abusive voice of an angry person sounded like truth because I’d begun to value the approval and companionship of my friends more than my Savior, so when the words cut and the criticisms left me soul-bleeding, I was sucker-punched. I had gasped for breath and reeled in emotional shock that night because I had allowed the opinions of others, these people I cared about so much, to become little idols.

I learned through that to listen to my critics and listen to my Savior. I learned that perfect love casts out fear and that forgiveness is a divine gift that we receive generously from God and give generously to those who hurt us.

///

Recently our pastor is doing a short series called: Listen!

This last week’s topic was learning to listen to our critics. Sometimes God speaks through the words and mouths of those who criticize us. Rebuke and correction aren’t easy for any of us to take, but by learning to listen to correction, we can allow it to grow us.

I thought of all the criticism I’ve received and dished out over the years. I thought about my own battle with inadequacy.  Criticism can yield truly negative, long-lasting results! I was certainly interested in learning ways to turn something so destructive into something character and faith-building.

In my situation with my friend, I realized that the list was unfounded and the criticisms were mostly lies, however, had I not listened, I would never have received the warning God was giving me through this mouthpiece.

The list I had written after that conversation had become a tale of caution, a collection of warnings of what I never wanted to be. The criticism I received that night, though I was rendered disabused and suffering, became a formative framework and altered the way I lived my live, interacted with people and related to my family. I have no idea where that conversation took my friend, but it took me into a new season of life and prepared me for future trials to come.

I learned, after some months, to give thanks to God for that conversation and forgive generously. I am actually thankful for that time of my life because it challenged me to be a different, more authentic person.

So what do we do with criticism?

We defend ourselves or deny the viability of the remarks, usually.

But our pastor suggested this response:

Listen to your critic.

Tell them thank you for their input.

Promise that you will think about what they had to say.

He referred to Larry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings where  this great advice comes from:

Listen without defensiveness

Accept responsibility without passing blame

Make any necessary changes without delay

I found that I became a more authentic and empathetic person through my experience with my critics. I also am happy to say that there has been some healing in the relationships that were affected and that true spiritual growth can result from unhappy circumstances.

///

What about you?

Have you experienced positive results from a being criticized?

How do you respond to criticism?

* Linked with Michelle @ Graceful, for Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday

and here with Ann

Advertisements

8 Comments

  1. I learned a lot from this post, plus got a great book recommendation. I’m currently under going relentless verbal/emotional abuse from an extended family member. There is no grace, no forgiveness, no mercy from her. Your words are mine, I’m a constant punching bag and we don’t even live in the same state. I don’t engage in actual conversations any longer, but the message still comes through other family members and emails. I like your idea of writing down the criticisms and presenting them to God. It’s an act of surrender, a sharing of the burden and a chance to see if there is any truth in what is being said.

  2. Oh, Audra,
    That breaks my heart to hear it! When we shake our heads for lack of answers…. This sort of conflict casts such long shadows, doesn’t it? Keep listening for Jesus’ truth and leading. I will pray for you, my heart recognizes those bruised places, tender from repeated hurt. God is faithful and good and will bring good things into your life, ministry, writing and spirit through this–I am confident of that. One thing I’ve learned is that the rejection of others has led me to the feet of Christ, and there is always mercy there, always full love and healing. And we can, eventually find a reason to give thanks for anything that pushes us closer to Him! Bless you, dear heart….
    alyssa

  3. Such a brave response on your part to write down the accusations, and bring each before the Lord. I don’t like criticism, especially at first, but after my emotions calm down, I usually do try to look at it to see if there is truth embedded in it. Usually there is at least a measure of truth that I need to see. But it’s hard to look! It’s easier just to get angry and defensive. Yet how ineffective that is. Thanks for sharing this, Alyssa. Very good!

  4. roseann elliott says

    you did a beautiful job with this…I once had a young lady I was walking with call me on the phone and just rail me…I got off the phone and was so offended…I wanted my husband to tell me how wrong and horrible she was…but he turned me to God…like you said…our righteous judge…I went into my room and cried tears of self-pity…than I asked Him…is this true…the most marvelous thing happened…God Spirit divided…He said all these no…but this one thing is true…then I wept tears of repentance…nothing else needed to be said after that…months later we were at a gathering…broken she came and asked for forgiveness…I could share God used it as a gift…my trust in His Spirit only strengthened…I knew I could trust Him with my heart….
    thanks for sharing….blessings~

  5. This is so interesting, as I just wrote and have recently been feeling that I need to pay attention to criticism instead of dismissing it- as often there can be truth in it somewhere, and I don’t want to be blind to it.

    Steph

  6. Wonderfully wise post, Alyssa…to come humbly before God with it…after first feeling very hurt etc..I am learning to go to God first over the past few years when dealing with certain emotionally abusive people in my life…you are the 2nd person in a week that has mentioned that book, Necessary Endings…maybe I need to add that to my hope-to-read list…thanks for redeeming what was a painful situation for God’s glory by sharing your process.

    • Dolly,
      I’m sorry for the hurting. If all criticism was constructive, we could learn to handle it, however there is so much beneath the words that hurt even more… broken hearts are important to Jesus, I believe, and he’s always healing us. I’m glad we can share this-
      Alyssa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s