OUCH! “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Not true. If we are honest, harsh words and criticism do hurt when they are directed at us. Words hurt even more when directed at not only something we’ve done, but who we are. My husband and I have been in ministry for almost 30 years, and we have had some seasons of criticism. Sometimes I want to lash out in anger and defend myself. Other times I want to retreat and hide. Fortunately, there is a way to keep our peace and joy in the midst of criticism. There is a proper, Christ-like way to respond. Years ago, I heard a wonderful sermon by Charles Stanley on how to handle criticism. In my own words, here is some of his wise advice that has carried me through those times:
1. Listen attentively and carefully. Look the person in the eye. Pay close attention to what they are saying and the spirit in which they speak. Keep your cool.
2. Hear them out. Don’t say anything until they are finished talking. Then ask, “Is there anything else?” Don’t interrupt. Often the first issue addressed is not the real issue but a smoke screen for a deeper problem.
3. Respond by saying, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will consider what you are saying”. That’s it! That’s all you have to say at this point. The natural response is to defend or attack. Don’t do it! I have found it helpful to immediately write down exactly what the person said. Because so many emotions are evoked in receiving criticism; there is a tendency to dwell on and rehearse what was said. In the process we may twist the words and even blow the situation out of portion. This is like pouring gasoline on a fire.
4. Spend time with God and ask, “Is this valid?” The criticism may be valid, partially valid or unfounded. Be honest with yourself. Take your time. You may need to spend an extended time before God. Deal with your emotions and don’t let them dictate your response. Talk to a trusted friend who will speak the truth. Guard yourself from gossiping or complaining about your critic in order to make yourself feel better. I found it helps to put myself in the place of the critic and try to understand where they are coming from. In other words, if I were them would I feel the same way?
5. If the concern is valid, take the steps to correct the situation. This is the proper time to go back to the person and make an apology. It’s difficult to admit we are wrong but don’t we want to know the truth so we can change? Ask God and the person involved for forgiveness. Appreciate the courage it took for that person to come to you. Perhaps an apology is in order to someone else as well? Take any steps needed to correct the situation and change to avoid problems in the future.
6. If the concern is not valid, let it go. Yes, let it go. Forgive the person. Pray for them. Be the bigger person. Don’t let the incident ruin you or stop you. Don’t let it permanently ruin your relationship for this grieves God’s spirit and can negatively affect whole groups of people.
7. Consider the situation an opportunity to grow in your Christian life. Allow God to use this to do a transforming work in your life.
Sticks and stones may break our bones, and names and words are painful, but we are accountable for our response. Proverbs 9 states, “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.”