How Do You Handle Criticism?


Here’s How Do You Handle Criticism?

I don’t accept criticism well.

My first response is inevitably defensiveness. I am quick to explain why I’ve been misunderstood. I point out the other person’s faults as I explain my perspective. I hire my inner lawyers (a phrase borrowed from Paul Tripp) who immediately go to work defending me. From my perspective, I’m innocent. Righteous. The one who has been wronged.

I was reading Psalm 141 and underlined these words: “Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness. If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it.” (Psalm 141:5 NLT)

As I journaled about these words, I thought about my response to correction. And how warped my perspective can be. When I’m criticized on social media or in Amazon reviews by people I don’t even know, I get upset. Their comments bother me long after I’ve read them. I even reread them. But when someone close to me offers negative feedback, I usually dismiss it as their problem, not mine.

But this psalm reminded me to pay attention to the source of my criticism. Is it someone who knows me? Is it someone godly? Could it help me see something I’ve overlooked? Criticism from the godly is a kindness. It is for our good. It has the potential to change us.

My sweet husband recently pointed out to me that my first response to his ideas is often negative. I immediately shoot them down, telling him the problems I see and offering my own “better” solutions.

When he first mentioned it, I was defensive. He just didn’t see my thoroughness. But even as I was speaking, I realized that he was right – I am quick to see the downside first. I feel compelled to get all my negative thoughts out first and only then am I open to reevaluating.

Joel’s words, though hard to hear at the time, were really helpful. I always thought that I was looking at the whole picture rather than just one side. But to the person I’m talking to, it feels like I’m criticizing all their ideas because my initial words are negative.

My daughter Katie pointed out a similar pattern several times before this, but I always dismissed her. When I told her about my conversation with Joel, she said that she is often hesitant to bring up something new because she feels I’ll shoot down her request. My first instinct is to see the potential pitfalls rather than consider someone’s ideas.

I’m thankful that Joel and Katie both had the boldness to tell me how they felt. I wouldn’t have known about this tendency if they hadn’t told me because these are blind spots for me – I can’t see them on my own. I need others to point them out to me.

I love the invention of blind spot indicators, lights that show if another car is in your blind spot. I wish my van had one because I almost hit a car as I was changing lanes a few years ago. I was sure no one was there and had to swerve to avoid an accident. Just because I couldn’t see the car, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

Like cars, we all have blind spots that we cannot see ourselves. But blind spot indicators are only helpful if we pay attention to them. Other people’s observations and rebukes, people whom we trust and know us well, can be invaluable.

Reading through 2 Chronicles, I was convicted that God sent messengers, mainly prophets, to many of the kings to rebuke them when they were sinning. But most kings refused to listen. They didn’t want to hear criticism, angry that a mere prophet would speak to a king that way. But God himself sent the prophets, and their words were meant to rescue people from their sin.

King Asa ignored the prophet Hanani’s warnings, throwing him in prison for his rebuke. Asa died shortly afterwards, refusing to seek help from the Lord. Ahab imprisoned the prophet Micaiah for telling him not to enter a battle, a battle that took the king’s life just as Micaiah prophesied. Jehoram ignored Elijah’s warnings and died a painful death. Joash killed the priest’s son Zechariah for his stern rebuke and was later murdered by his own people. Uzziah ignored the priest Azariah’s warning and was immediately struck with leprosy.

God uses others to point out what we cannot see ourselves, yet we often don’t pay attention. We are sure we’re right. Like the kings, we blame the messengers. We continue in our blindness. We forget that it’s a kindness to have someone point out our sin and correct us. We should not refuse it. God means it for our good, to keep us from harm.

While we may not have prophets who are sent specifically to warn us, we do have people who correct and criticize us. Yet we rarely receive those words with grace, or at least I don’t. Of course people don’t always offer feedback in a gentle, calm way – and their words may even be spoken in anger or frustration and be entangled with their own struggles. But however or whyever the criticism is delivered, we can bring their words before the Lord, ask for wisdom, and be open to seeing our sin.

We don’t need to accept everyone’s criticism as valid, but the words that godly people bring should impact us. Rather than immediately trying to defend ourselves, we can ask the Lord to search our hearts, test our minds and show us truth as we listen. Our default should be accepting that others’ words have merit as we carefully and prayerfully consider them.

We can even actively seek out input, asking directly for feedback, as a means of God’s grace in our lives. Our pastor regularly encourages us to do that. A close friend and I have met several times to offer feedback on what we’ve observed in each other. We set a time in advance, both pray about what the Lord would have us say, and agree to be honest and gracious. Those times have been invaluable to me.

David modelled a teachable spirit when he said: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

As we ask the Lord to show us our grievous ways, our sin, and blind spots, he may answer through Scripture, through prayer or through the people in our lives. We’d be wise to pay attention.

Do you struggle with criticism? Is there someone whose words you need to reevaluate? What is the Lord calling you to do in response?

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