All of us deal with criticism. Sometimes hard words are intentionally directed at us, whether motivated by love or hatred. There may be times when we incorrectly interpret others’ remarks because of our own past or insecurities. It may be that we are our own harshest critic and painfully relive everything we say and do. Whatever the source of criticism, it has the potential to immobilize us, destroying our progress and dreams.
I am reminded of James’s comments about the tongue: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boast of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness (3:5-6).” Critical words have the power to destroy us. Their flames can burn in our hearts until we are immobilized, or we can let God use them to purify or direct us in a new way.
Leadership is mined with criticism; no matter how well we navigate it, we get hurt now and then.
When I was criticized about my teaching some time ago, my first reaction was self-protection: “I won’t ever stand before that group again!” Although I knew that people never all like the same teachers (same is true of preachers), especially when they already have their favorites, I hurt and wanted to avoid more of it. I had a choice to let one woman destroy my availability or to assess what was helpful from her remarks and come away better for them.
On another occasion long ago I was slandered. It was a hurtful time filled with many tears, but I experienced the truth that God can use evil intentions to redirect us—as he did with Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph’s words are so helpful: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20).” The path God put me on as a result of that experience led me to where I am today.
Whatever your arena of influence—home, workplace, community, family—there will be critics. It’s a hard truth, but it helps to expect it. Your parents may criticize your parenting; those you supervise may harshly judge your leadership; those affected by your decisions may comment on your poor choices (think children). Whether it is motivated by evil or by true concern, it hurts. When you hear it, don’t allow it to destroy you; instead, listen carefully and discern what is true and helpful. Ask God how to grow from it, forgive, and respond well to your critics.
How have you responded to criticism? If you are a leader, how do you overcome your first reactions to it? What is your story?