Cope with Criticism

healingthehurt“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” (Aristotle)

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill)

If you’re not encountering criticism, you’re not building relationships, because relationships should involve value-driven discussions and daily living, which will cause friction among individuals. Of course, the friction should be handled in God-honoring ways. We should respect one another even when we disagree, but how often do we think respecting each other is refusing to disagree? How God-honoring are we when we’re on the receiving end of the criticism? Do we take it personally and have difficulty as we think someone no longer likes us, or do we callously respond as if we don’t care because we’re going to be who we are regardless of what anyone says or thinks of us?

What do you learn from the following verses?

Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. But be careful, because you might be tempted to sin, too. (Galatians 6:1)

In everything you say and do, remember that you will be judged by the law that makes people free. So you must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy to you when he judges you. But the person who shows mercy can stand without fear at the judgment. (James 2:12-13)

I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other. (John 13:34-35)

Accept into your group someone who is weak in faith, and do not argue about opinions. (Romans 14:1)

God certainly gave his children guidelines for criticizing others. We must be loving, gentle, and merciful. We are not excused from criticism; we are simply directed to criticize within God’s standards with his provision. We are to accept and respond to criticism in the same way—within God’s standards—even when people criticizing us are not adhering to the same standards. Just because another Christ-follower is bending God’s rules does not make it okay for us to bend God’s rules, thus, fighting fire with fire.

We cope with criticism with the same standards by which we’re to give criticism.

  • Be loving—by God’s standards.
  • Be gentle—by God’s standards.
  • Be merciful—by God’s standards.
  • Be forgiving—by God’s standards.

Responding to criticism by God’s standards is not the same as hiding feelings. It’s setting aside feelings for truth. God gave us feelings to enhance experiences not to distort the truth of a situation. Let God reveal the truth of a situation. You don’t need to know the person’s motives. You don’t need to know how the person will respond. All you need to know is…God. God is truth, and when you invite and trust him to guide, your motives will become God-driven and your responses will become God-guided. You will cope with criticism with God and for God. He is at the center of your life and your relationships, including criticism. Let him lead from the center.

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Get Outside Your Circle

healingthehurtIt’s a bit easier to perpetuate the cause and effects of hurt when you hang out with a group that isolates itself and allows the hurt to multiply. We all need reality checks, and we don’t get them from the people closest to us if they’re not willing or able to shine a revealing light on the truth of a situation. We connect with people because we have things in common with them, so we affirm one another. However, when the affirmation becomes a crutch and pulls a blinding shade over accountability, we’re in trouble.

We need to choose friends who love us just the way we are yet aren’t content to leave us there—just like God. Affirmation is great as long as it’s biblical. However, our circles of friends—even in churches—can become gossip fests. Once the can of gossip is opened, it’s incredibly difficult to secure the lid on it, but the effort is worth it. We do a lot of damage spreading hearsay or gathering breakneck momentum based on our opinions instead of factually-based information and biblical truth. When our small groups of friends or Bible study groups begin to share opinions and gain momentum of what we think is happening or should happen with an individual or the church as a whole, it’s not long before we take the small leap that rationalizes we’re being “led by God.” Just because we’re a group of Bible-believing church folks who come to a consensus doesn’t mean our conclusion is God-directed. Were biblical principles followed throughout the process of coming to the conclusion, or was there misguided rationale, misinformation, and inappropriate sharing? You cannot reach a Spirit-led result with a man-led process.

There are many boundaries drawn between the “us” and “them” in churches. It can be old versus young or paid staff versus volunteer staff. It can be “old-timers” versus new members or regular attenders versus members. The division of groups is often perpetuated by assumptions. Because we tend to hang out with people most like ourselves, we quickly make assumptions about other groups as well as about what those groups must think about us. It isn’t long before we feel slighted, justified, or entitled, and the space between the groups widen.

The way to build a bridge between groups is to get to know individuals in other groups. It takes effort, because we have to reach across the aisle to approach the very people we have some unflattering assumptions about. We might find some aspects of the assumptions to be true, but we’ll likely find many more exceptions if we open our eyes and hearts widely enough to recognize and acknowledge them. If each person in your circle of camaraderie gets to know three people in one of “the other” circles, how many assumptions would be proven right and how many would be shaken or shattered? It’s worth a try to find out. Test the all or nothing perspective.

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Relationships Aren’t 50/50

healingthehurtI don’t know where the rumor started about relationships being 50/50, but it’s not true. I’ve studied many relationships in Scripture, and I don’t see a directive that indicates anything about 50/50. Give and take? Yes, of course. Meeting each other halfway with a perfectly balanced compromise? No.

I’m not recommending unhealthy relationships where one person always yields to the whims of the other. But I’m encouraging you to take an honest, realistic look at your relationships and your attitudes toward what you deserve, need, and want. Perhaps you keep a record of who has compromised to what degree across situations. If you gave up something big in one situation, you want the other person to give up something big next time. You operate on the favor system. Or perhaps you just default to yielding because it’s easier. You operate on the avoidance system. Or you want your way all the time—not because (you think) you’re selfish but because you just know better. You have the best solution, and why satisfy yourself with a less-than-great solution? You operate on the best-only system.

The value of “the best” isn’t determined by the outcome of the situation. It’s determined by the growth of the relationship. Involving others, even when it means settling for something a bit less than what you have in mind, is more important than the outcome. Respect is more important than success. In fact, respect is success. Perhaps the problem is that we personally define success instead of letting God define it. Perhaps the problem is that we personally define compromise in relationships instead of letting God define it.

Any single relationship isn’t 50/50. Both people in great relationships—marriages, friendships, and so on—will usually declare he/she got the best end of the deal. Both evaluate benefiting more than 50% of the time, but 50+ and 50+ combine for more than 100%. It’s more about the perception than the reality, because who can really define the benefits and costs of the relationship—except God? While God defines and directs our individual relationships, he keeps the big picture of our relationships as a whole. He knows what we need relationally, because he created us for relationships. He knows one relationship you have is going to feel a bit needy. You’re going to give way more than you will ever receive through it, but there will also be a relationship that you have the capacity to receive much more than you will ever give. Of course, sometimes we don’t completely trust through God’s guidance and provision. We’re more comfortable giving than receiving, so we don’t get the balance he intends. We then wonder why we’re exhausted. Perhaps you need to improve in asking for help and acknowledging your need for support and encouragement.

In addition to the balance across different relationships, sometimes individual relationships seem imbalanced but are balanced over time. We might have a friendship that seems primarily giving but what we don’t see is a time in the future when we’ll need to be still and accept the other person’s generosity through a time of need. We can’t demand paybacks, but we can trust that God is just and, in our obedience, he is faithful to provide the balance of relationships we need, including  both opportunities to sacrificially give and abundantly receive.

Consider your relationship with God. How 50/50 is it? God models relationship with us. He exists in relationship, and he created us for relationship. Our relationship with him is certainly not 50/50. (1) He created us. (2) He provides for us while we’re here on earth. (3) He sacrificed his Son to make a way for us to live with him in eternity. And what do we do? Seek him and respond in obedience—and we don’t even do that well much of the time! It doesn’t seem very balanced to me, but it must seem that way to God, because he designed it that way. Trust his guidance and provision. He knows what he’s doing.

LORD, I trust you. I have said, “You are my God.” (Psalm 31:14)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Listen With Respect

healingthehurtHow do you know what you think you know? It’s amazing how many times we jump to conclusions. We hear something through a third party, or we overhear a part of a conversation, or we hear something in the way we want to hear it and insist we know the intention behind it. We fill in the gaps between what someone actually said to make the entire story into what we want it to be instead of what it actually is. We omit the parts that contradict what we want to believe, and we ever-so-slightly embellish those areas that emphasize our points.

It’s important to go to the source, then listen with respect. Listening with respect isn’t the same as listening for ammunition. It’s listening for truth. It’s giving the person time to talk. It’s asking clarifying questions and briefly summarizing or restating every now and then to insure what you’re hearing is the same as what the person is trying to communicate. It’s listening more than you talk. It’s setting aside your personal agenda for the common good of the relationship. It’s putting others above self.

Active listening is a developed skill. It takes practice. Most of us talk much more than we listen. Even if you’re a quiet person, you can’t quickly take yourself off the hook on this one, because a quick word count comparing what you say and what you hear isn’t the same as active listening. Active listening involves investment in a relationship, which means you need to respond in order to show the person your respect. You need to engage, asking questions and restating the basics.

Listening with respect doesn’t assume you agree with everything being said. It’s not nearly as much about what is said as who is saying it. God instructs us to respect one another. It’s clear by the standards and expectations he sets that not every behavior, belief, and attitude should be respected, revered, accepted, or tolerated. But we don’t throw the person out with the behavior. It difficult to listen with respect when the person has done something we don’t respect, especially when we find out a person we’ve previously looked up to has gone against biblical principles he or she has previously personally revered and taught. However, it’s not about how we feel like responding. It’s about how God instructs us to respond. And there’s no doubt he commands respect among his followers.

To whom do you need to listen with respect today? Invite the conversation. Let God build your faith by trusting him through the process. He will guide you through what you think is impossible.

Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family… (1 Peter 2:17)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

healingthehurtGod’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Welcome to Healing the Hurt, a 10-post series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

It’s difficult to keep a distance from somebody and touch them at the same time. Physically, it’s impossible. Emotionally, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re very good at denying emotional response and withholding compassion. Touch requires closeness, and closeness reflects relationship engagement. It’s easy to stand across the room from somebody and judge, spite, ignore, begrudge, and build a dividing wall between “us” and “them.” You can even avoid eye contact as you meet someone in the hall or pretend not to have brushed shoulders in the shifting crowd. You might be able to shake hands with a cold commitment. But what if you intentionally shake hands and make eye contact at the same time? Add a warm smile? How judgmental can you be then, regardless of what your attitude has been prior to that time?

We’re not all touchy-feeling people, and I’m certainly not suggesting a huge hug-fest in the church foyer. However, approaching someone with whom you have opposing opinions to inquire about his or her work week, family, or other concern or interest beyond the opposing opinion spurs you to stand on common ground. You may or may not be able to stand on common ground in the area of disagreement, but you can find other common ground even if it’s the simple fact that you are both Christ-followers who are passionate about seeking and following his will. Acknowledging and committing to stand on common ground helps highlight the similarities of your relationship instead of focusing on the dividing wall you’re steadily building by keeping your distance. When you build a dividing wall on the common ground you share, it’s much more difficult to stand on that same common ground!

Reach out and touch someone. It doesn’t have to be a hug. Simply rest your hand on someone’s shoulder. Gently touch someone’s arm as you ask how her week has been. As you shake someone’s hand, place your other hand over her hand and hold it for several seconds as you look into her eyes and remind her you’ve been praying for the situation. Of if you’re a natural hugger, gauge your motivation to hug. Is it simply a meaningless habit? Do your hugs really mean anything, or are they received as an obligatory handshake? Think intentionally when you reach out and touch someone. You can touch someone without much thought or purpose, but reaching out takes intention and effort.

Reaching out builds a bridge. It personalizes the relationship. When you reach out and touch someone, you’re reminded the person with whom you’re most irritated is a living, breathing person. God created her, and he loves her. He wants you to see the value he gave her, not the value you give her. When you reach out and touch someone, you also become a bit more “real” to a person. You cannot control the value someone else assigns to you, but you always have a choice to perpetuate a judgmental stereotype and assumption or invite someone into a growing relationship. Actively engage with the people with who you disagree. It’s not the easy choice, but God wants you to honor relationships.

Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. (Romans 12:10)