The elderly church lady marched up to the grand piano, where I was playing, stuck her face by my ear and angrily hissed, “You always bang the piano so hard when you play. It hurts my ears.” The harsh assessment came during a break in the service where members were supposed to greet one another and welcome newcomers. Dismayed, I smiled sweetly, apologized and reduced my volume, sorry I caused this dear sister any suffering.
The first part is absolutely correct. The second part, about me, well…… that’s not quite the way it rolled out. The truth is, I never looked up, kept pounding the keys, my gigantic 80’s mall bangs wobbling back and forth like a metronome, and gave my critic a terse nod. My insides took on a boxer’s stance. Snarky jabs jumped to mind, like, “I’d looooooove to play more softly but our antique sound board is so horrid, how else can I keep the congregation on the same beat!” The rest of the punches that piled up in my mind definitely qualify as below the belt. Nice pastor’s wife, right? Sadly, I used to respond to criticism with less than a mature response.
This type of childish reaction is typical for many believers who lack the godly tools to process criticism.
My inability to handle critics flowed from deep insecurities and a desire to be liked by everyone…..all the time, everywhere, without exception. That’s normal, right? Probably not, but I’ve known many other people who struggle with the same issue.
Insecure people don’t handle criticism well because they already feel lousy.
If the voices in your own head tear you down regularly, negative remarks from others become unbearable. Some people wilt and shrink away trying not to poke the verbally abusive bears in their lives. Feisty folk, like me, sometimes pop the bear right in the snoot. Neither of these responses are Christ-like, and can mess you up, in the long term.
The piano incident pales, pain-wise, in comparison to critiques of my character and motives I’ve received, over the years. These types of comments used to slice deeply into my soul and make me question everything about myself in an unhealthy, obsessive way.
I know I’m a handful. My artistic, melancholy and sanguine personality blend can be exasperating for those around me. Folks never know if the party otter or the introverted worker bee will show up on any given day. But these days, I am grounded in the knowledge of the unique person God created me to be, flaws and all. My job is to walk uprightly before Him and let Him put his finger on the edges of my diamond that need polishing. Criticism is simply one of the polishing tools He uses.
If you are a leader, scrutiny from others is a fact of life. People trash talked Jesus’ ministry and character frequently. While Jesus responded, the disciples usually reacted. How are you handling negative remarks? Do you feel like the complaints outnumber the compliments? How many bear snoots have you bopped?
You cannot control other people; you can only control your response to them.
Dishing out grace to our critics doesn’t happen with determination and grit. This type of maturity is the fruit of intimacy with God. He enables you to be confident in your strengths and honest about your raggedy edges. He insists that your first priority is pleasing Him, not others. Criticism may still wound you but you will respond to it instead of reacting to it.
How you navigate negative remarks will strengthen you, drawing you closer to Christ, or weaken and embitter you. In the next few posts I’ll describe my personal process for handling criticism. I’m still tempted to nurse grudges or retaliate, sometimes, but usually I don’t. That behavior grieves the Holy Spirit too much and derails my intimacy with Christ.
The first question I ask myself, when confronted with an unflattering assessment is, “Does this comment contain any truth?” I choose to shift my mind away from instinctive reactions. Instead, I choose to look objectively at the situation and my role in it. Did I bang the piano too hard? Yup, and it probably did hurt some ears. My critic’s tone and timing were poor, yet kernels of truth resided in what she said. I could have kindly explained my challenges to her, after the service, and maybe gained support for purchasing a sound system upgrade sooner than we did.
Receiving criticism humbly and measuring our response is Christ-like and pleases our Father. The bonus is that God can use the sharp edges of other’s words to chisel away our faults and make us more like His son. Let Him do His work!
In my next post we’ll explore handling criticism further. If you’ve got some tips and strategies for this common ministry challenge, please share them on my Facebook page. Let’s encourage one another!
“Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery.” Proverbs 29:1 (NLT)