“A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool.“
Emotionally spent, I closed the door and walked downstairs.
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