What if the Critics are Right?

“I saw you walking down the street last week and you never even waved at me! You seem very anti-social, shouldn’t you be more open to greeting others?”

“I would never talk to my child that way!”

“Well, I just think your way of doing things are wrong… just my opinion.”

So what do you do with other people’s opinion of you and what you do with your life. In a world of social media style communication the freedom to criticize others has become easier for people over the internet and even now in person. I ran across a very short section in a text book on how to handle criticism and loved the advice I was reading. That prompted me to ask some friends, family members, and fellow ministry workers what kind of criticism they encountered in any given week. 

A lot of the criticism we get is in the form of snide remarks disguised as “my opinion”. The critic has this look on their face as they declare that they’d do things differently… but ya know, it’s “just my opinion”. You walk away feeling defensive and judged. Many critics lack tact and respect and have little they want to accomplish other than passing judgment and well.. Criticizing. Critics are abundant. Love is not.  

So, what do you do when that critic just may be right? What if they approach you in love, or as a friend? Do you write the friendship off and end the conversation with a roll of the eyes and a boot out the door? Now, don’t get me wrong. SO MANY critics do it wrong. The motive is to knock you down a peg, to share disgust, or to push you down to make themselves feel better. However, I have to believe that some do it with correct motives, but simply in the wrong way. 

“Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” -Proverbs 15:31, 32

Now let’s be real, MOST people are not simply correcting but judging, and sometimes rather harshly. It’s easy to spot when someone has perhaps overstepped because as they leave, you are left with a hurt heart, and a heaviness that you carry around. No one likes to have even the slightest fault pointed out. But what if there were some truth to the criticism? What if you only listened to the negative words and looked past a helpful, heartfelt friend who was just trying to help you weed out the bad?

It is very important to discern the difference between constructive criticism and a harmful form of judgment used to critique and hurt. One can bring life, the other death. I believe God can work despite the motive of any person even if that motive was not pure. Before letting the offense of the critical comment settle in, pray. Pray that God would show you what to do with the information. Is change needed? 

A friend of mine mentioned that he often walks the streets of his town with headphones in his ears. His focus is on getting a little exercise and to follow up on some podcasts. One day a friend of his approached him with a tad bit of an offended attitude. “You never wave at me when I see you walking. Why do you ignore me around town?” Even after my friend explained that he just hadn’t seen the wave, and that he was most likely really concentrating  the offended party was still offended. “You should be more polite when you are walking around!” It would be easy to roll your eyes and move on with life. But when my friend prayed over the encounter he realized that he could change the course of that one particular person’s day just by being a tad more aware of others on his walk. It was a simple change, but God impressed on his heart that a change was warranted. 

Because he prayed first before taking offense he was able to make himself more accessible to people. The reason for a change may not be simply to please unpleasable people, but when we pray God can take even the poorly given criticism and turn it into a positive change in a person’s life. 

When dealing with criticism consider the source. Is the person complaining trustworthy? Do they have motives that are pure, helpful, and are pointing you towards a better relationship with God? Or are their motives nasty and harmful. Unfortunately, you may encounter a chronic complainer, one who can not be pleased. Their criticism may not be a one time thing. But what if what they said is true? This is why praying FIRST is important. God may still speak to your heart even through someone with no positive motive. However,  if a change is not needed, then brush it off and move on. Do not let bitterness take root in your heart over their inability to look past their own preference. You can move on unphased when you know God is not asking the change from you. 

Ask yourself what part of the criticism is true what is not. Then fix the part that needs fixing; and not just for their sake, but your own. Your goal is never to be a people pleaser, but instead a God pleaser. 

“Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” -Proverbs 10:17

Pride often allows the initial response of offense to settle into anger and the change that could take place never does. But if we humble ourselves to what is true about what the other person said we can turn even the things said under the wrong motives into a life giving experience. 

I once was overwhelmed with a to do list a mile high when a woman from church approached me on my dash to another activity. I explained to her that she’d need to walk while we talked but when we arrived at my destination I politely told her I had a meeting and I’d talk to her later. I called her later that night to ensure that if she wanted to talk I was available. At the time she was not upset. However, later when I had inadvertently offended her another way she lays into me about how insensitive I was with her feelings. I listened to her yell at me and blame me for things I had no clue had ever happened. But when she brought up how I had dismissed her on my way to a meeting I knew what she said was not correct. I took that altercation to God and could walk away knowing I had gone out of my way to minister to her. If she did not feel ministered to, it was not because I hadn’t tried. I did not have to walk around feeling condemned. However, 15 years later I am still strongly aware of how I approach spur-of-the-moment ministry opportunities. I didn’t let the criticism weigh me down, but I did allow it to change my mindset on how others feel ministered to. 

It is important to humble yourself, pray about the criticism, consider the source, and change what you can change. It is also important you choose not to let it weigh you down. Do not let someone’s unloving critique of you and the way you do things define who you are. If God is not asking you to change, you can brush it off and move on. 

And to the critic… Proverbs 12:18 says “The words of the reckless pierce like swords,

but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” It is your goal to pierce the soul of another? If it is, STOP. You’re being mean, not helpful. Are you trying to bring healing? There’s a few rules here, too. First, do you have a true relationship with this person? If not, you do not have the right to bring correction into their lives. You can pray instead. Pray that the person will see their fault on their own and that through the conviction of the Holy Spirit they will make the change. If you do have a relationship with the person, pray about how to approach the topic in love. Ask yourself if it’s a sin that is hurting them or is it a matter of personal preference.  Friends are to sharpen one another, not nitpick their every move. Perhaps you should pray for your own correction first. 

Second, what is your motive. What are you truly wanting to accomplish by criticising the other person? If you are approaching a friend, and you truly feel God has asked you to encourage this person in love then you can begin to bathe that in prayer before speaking. However, if you examine your reason and can come up with nothing other than, “It annoys me.” or “I don’t like the way they do things.” or any other excuse other than “because God has asked me to sharpen a friend” then you need to let go and move on. It is not your job to approach people in the grocery store, or your pastor before service, or even a friend who prefers to do things differently than you. 

Third, If you must approach a friend with some constructive criticism do so in love. Galatians 6:1 admonishes us to handle such a conversation with gentleness. The best way to do so is to bathe the conversation in prayer before ever saying a word. Be prepared to stop mid-sentence if the Holy Spirit prompts you to. And pray that the friend will be ready to hear what you feel God is asking you to say. 

Lastly, critisism should NEVER be given using social media. If you can not have a face to face converstaion where the other person can see your face, hear your tones, and get an encouraging touch from you perhaps you should not approach the topic. There may be times a phone to phone conversation is warrented but this is still preferred over a typed text. Hearing a tone is important. And if the Lord so puts on your heart to write a letter, be very consise with your words to express the right tone. If you must, tell them the exact tone you intend to use in the letter, “I say this with a calm spirit and loving tone”. Written word loses so much personality and should be the last resort and only used if God so prompts. Public criticism is NEVER a good idea. (outside of a Matthew 18 confrontation). Refrain at all costs speaking negatively to someone in public (or to someone else… that’s just gossip!)

We all have to know that we are prone to wander. We are sinful creatures that have the capacity to do wrong and make mistakes. When those mistakes have to be pointed out, we should humble ourselves in order to take the correction. We should also have grace and fight against bitterness when criticism comes in all the wrong ways with the wrong information from the wrong person. 

Critics are everywhere, there’s no way to avoid them. But how we approach them can bring God glory and bring about good… even if they intended it for harm. And if you are called to be a critic, be sure it’s loving, God honoring and constructive (and few and far between).