Nobody loves criticism. It bugs us. In fact, criticism is so effective that though we received countless commendations, one negative word can topple our whole attitude. What is it about criticism that makes it so potent? What is it about a negative word that gives it such gravity? What can we do to blunt the thorny edge of criticism?
- Let go of your self-idol. We need to identify what criticism is doing to us. Criticism is effective because of our own sense of self and pride. When we are criticized, we turn inward to see if what was said is true. We second-guess and self-assess. Truly effective criticisms are those directed at our identity. These type criticism usually begin with, “You are just a …,” fill in the rest. We spend a lot of time and energy building our sense of self and our own identity. This is the result of the curse in Gen. 3:16-19. Rather than relying on God for our identity, we begin to draw on relationships (3:16) or achievements (3:19) to self-identity. This self-idolatry is the root of why criticism is so effective. We defend our self-idol.
- Change the question. Criticism attempts to force our focus on an endless list of personal failures. Someone else might have seen through us or spotted a weakness. So we respond by asking, “What did I do wrong? How could they say that? What do they expect?” We need to ask the important, selfless questions, “Is God at work here? Was God’s purpose accomplished today/night/this time? Was God’s glory reflected?” Denying self means coming to grips with God’s hand in humiliation as well as in glory. Paul reflects on this when he writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I how to abound. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret to facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:12-13, ESV). Paul sees all his circumstances as God’s doing so what criticism can come against his own efforts? He sees himself as a servant of the only one worthy of glory. If one were to criticize Paul’s work, he would simply acknowledge that God had been at work.
- Stop criticizing others. Most criticism is our attempt to use another person’s identity brick for our own idol constructing efforts. Our pride drives our criticism of others but is also the reason we are so vulnerable to criticism from others. To be fair, criticism and fair evaluation are not the same. We have to evaluate our own work and that of others. It is pride, however, that makes other people’s criticism so difficult to receive. It is also pride that makes criticism so opportunistic for us to use. Negative and destructive criticism is used as a weapon. Our pride is the hand on the hilt. Teach-ability and humility go hand in hand. Pride and criticism go finger on trigger. Stop running others down to make yourself feel important by comparison. God alone is the judge and image-giver.