Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Listen to Your Critics

Whether you are a stay at home mom, a famous pastor, or a well read author or blogger, here is a wise piece of advice. Listen. To. Your. Critics. This is not the same as obeying our critics or changing to appease our critics because we are afraid of their criticisms. Listening to them means more than reading what they say just long enough to find a straw man we can build up and then hack to death on our own. To listen means to stop, hear what they are truly saying (what point do THEY think they are trying to convey), and consider the merit of their concerns. Why is that so hard?

1) Because we don't understand the difference in listening to our critics and being defined by our critics. In my humble opinion, the best way to NOT be defined by your critic is to actually listen to what they are saying. Then figure out for yourself what parts of their criticisms reflect legitimate weak areas in your life.

2) Because we hear tone louder than we hear words. I use the phrase, “same words, different tone” with my boys a lot. But what if your critic isn't changing their tone? The wise man or woman filters out tone and tries to hear heart concerns.

3) Because we think our critics want to destroy us. But that's an irrelevant point. Their motives are IRRELEVANT. Satan's great tool is redirection. Instead of hearing legitimate concerns about ourselves, we decide the critic is unworthy of our hearing because of motives we attribute to them. I can't say it strongly enough – if we put off self reflection because we are suspicious of the motives of our critic, we lose great opportunities for self correction. 

4) Most of all, we don't listen to our critics because, despite our gospel beliefs, we look to our own righteousness to sustain our opinion about ourselves. We look to our own righteousness for confidence with others. The idea of some criticism actually being true about us is threatening to a mindset that SAYS it believes the gospel but hasn't fully appropriated it for itself. To quote Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “You can't handle the truth.” If you rouse up with unrighteous anger and straw men when you hear criticism of yourself or a beloved ministry, honestly, you have a gospel issue. Jesus needs disciples who can handle the truth, who can face their mistakes and failures head on (or those of their beloved ministries), because every person you are GOING TO disciple in the future needs to be able to do that too. Disciples who can't consider their own failings from the voice of a critic aren't going to be good at discipling others to bring their sins to Jesus for forgiveness and redemption.

Why positively should we listen to our critics?

1) Because even if they get some things wrong (or a lot of things wrong), there is probably at least a nugget of truth to their concerns.

2) Most of all – because we naturally tend toward people who think similarly to us. We have to work to hear opposing views. It is not human nature. I loved debate in high school and college. I loved to ARGUE with someone of opposing views, but it took great maturity in life before I could LISTEN to someone with opposing views. Our natural tendency is to seek out and surround ourselves with people who support our views or are heading in a direction we want to head. But those people likely have similar hangups to us. We tend toward them because they are comfortable. Which is why we need critics. They make us uncomfortable, but we'll never correct mistaken long held assumptions without being pushed out of our comfort zone. Correction is inherently uncomfortable.

When we listen to our critics in an unhealthy way, we cave to their concerns because of the peer pressure. When we listen to our critics in a healthy way, we lay down defensiveness and try to figure out what of their concerns fits with our root convictions. Not all of their criticisms will fit with our root convictions, but many, many times, much of their criticism will. Next time someone criticizes you, I encourage you to lay down defensiveness and respond, “I'm going to think about what you said.” Then, go think about what they said. Think about principles from Scripture and passages you've been reading. Think about sermons you've heard and long standing burdens the Spirit has laid on your heart. Pray for clarity from the Spirit and the Word. Let yourself be challenged. It's a beautiful thing, and it's called growth.

19 comments:

  1. Could not agree more, Wendy. If we dismiss our critics, we are automatically assuming that they are wrong and we are right. God sends critics to test our humility, I believe, and allows their message for our good....although sometimes you have to wade through the sarcasm, attacks and pettiness to find that nugget of truth.

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  2. I've now read this over about five times and sent it to some friends, relatives, and ladies from church. So convicting and spot on with the truth!

    Your writing blesses me every time, Wendy. Thank you for persevering.

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  3. Very good observation and points although difficult. I love the comment same words, different tones.~Michelle

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  4. Thank you, all, for your feedback. Barbara, your words encourage me.

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  5. This post reminded me of a sermon I heard by Josh Harris a few years ago on Proverbs 9 called Lady Wisdom's Food and Drink. His main premise, by way of Solomon, as that the degree to which we demonstrate that we are growing in wisdom can be measured by the degree to which we willingly receive and even welcome criticism, no matter its source. We will want it to so much that we won't be concerned with where it comes from, but what it contains. It's stuck with me to this day.

    It's so hard when people around us tell us that listening to critics is an act of weakness, or a waste of time, instead of an act of wisdom.

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  6. Dear Wendy,

    I've just recently followed your blog and I find your voice to be a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

    -Randee

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  7. I have a very hard time taking criticism. I think, in addition to the things you listed, part of my problem is that I filter criticism through the lens of my own insecurities and perceptions of how people perceive me. There have been times when I have had a hard time grasping that my critics have a totally different concern than I thought they did!

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  8. Oh Wendy, How timely your words are for me! I'm going to have to read this over a few more times and let it all sink in with some prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness in your writing. Your courage in putting yourself out there helps me persevere in doing the same. xo Teresa

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  9. Great word, Wendy! My first response is to look around and shout, "This is what Evangelicalism needs!" But, then a still small voice whispers in my ear, "This is what I need."

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  10. Christy, exactly! Not that you need it. :-) But that at first it seems like what larger evangelical groups/leaders need (and they do), but then I remember how much I need this myself in the quiet places in my life.

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  11. First-time poster here. A helpful and timely word, Wendy. Thanks! FYI, a number of years ago, an article entitled "The Cross and Criticism" by Alfred Poirier was published in CCEF's Journal of Biblical Counseling.
    You can find it here: http://www.peacemaker.net/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=aqKFLTOBIpH&b=1084263&ct=1245843

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  12. This was an important word for me today... I'm in a position where I'm being criticized and this post is such a good reminder to take and learn from it; also to realize that I need to stand firm in Christ through it.

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  13. Wendy, again thank you for a well written post! I just ordered your book about the Gospel centered woman and cannot wait to start reading it!

    I have been learning to listen as a part of learning to be repentant. Of course there are times where you did nothing wrong that you need to repent of and still get criticism. But it has helped me to develop and attitude that I CAN be wrong (and sometimes I HAVE been wrong). And the saying 'loose the argument-not the person' reminds me of the importance of loving people...and love listens.
    Not that it is easy :)

    Anyways, thanks for getting me things to think about and learn!

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  14. Thank you for this, Wendy! I'm still afraid of such an approach to criticism, but know it is right and good when filtered through the Gospel. I'm gonna borrow tha t phrase with my little boys, too :)

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  15. Christians have a unique opportunity to demonstrate healthy and respectful dialogue In culture that is becoming more polarized and hostile. In Christ we should be able to communicate (which is speaking AND listening) with each other in humilityy and unity that overrides our differences, And if we apply that skill into our religiously pluralistic culture, even better. I know it's comfortable in our like-minded bubbles, but we benefit greatly by intentionally seeking out other perspectives.

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  16. Well said. I have found that when I finally fully surrendered my identify to Christ, that I began to take criticism so much better. I finally FELT in my heart that I had nothing to fear - because my worth had nothing to do with the criticism. And as you stated, it almost always has something that is true and worth praying about.

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  17. "I finally FELT in my heart that I had nothing to fear - because my worth had nothing to do with the criticism." Well said, Karla. It's a beautiful thing to feel that freedom.

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