Criticism! What a great topic since we are all confronted with it to some degree. We are grateful to Joy, a Peter’s Wife reader, for sharing her experience and insights that can help us better handle criticism.
Criticism–when you’ve had about all you can take
“You know why your kids are sick all the time, don’t you? It’s because you don’t make them wear slippers or undershirts. You should take better care of your kids.” (from my closest local friend, just after my son had his tonsils and adenoids removed due to repeat infections)
“Your backside is really getting enormous—I mean look how wide it is. But that’s OK. You have a pretty face.” (from a very slim 40-something neighbor)
“I can’t believe how loud your kids are. It’s impossible to get any rest. I feel like running away. Why can’t you keep them quiet like other people do?” (part of a longer conversation, where my downstairs neighbor berated me for more than 10 minutes in front of all my other neighbors at a tea)
Living in a Culture of Criticism
These are just three criticisms that I’ve received in the last couple of weeks. Encouraging, right? All of us in Central Asia live in a cultural setting where criticism and comparison are tools commonly used to shame, motivate, and wound. It’s passed on from mother to daughter, from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law. As cultural outsiders and believers, it’s hard to know how to respond in the moment, much less how to handle it over the long haul. Add in criticism from spouse and co-workers, real or perceived, and sometimes the burden seems too much to bear.
I believe our first year was the hardest in this respect. We lived with a local family for the first 8 months and just about anything I said or did was up for public consumption. The criticism was constant, from what I drank, to how I sat, to how I chopped an onion. (I’m pretty sure I even used the squatty wrong as well, but fortunately no one knew that). I was the only member of our team to get so “behind” in language, that we created a special SLOW class just for me. Local friends constantly compared us: “You speak worse than all of your friends. What is your problem?” It was frustrating and humiliating. This reveals the pride in my heart, but sometimes I just wanted to wear a shirt that said, “Actually, I’m pretty smart,” “Some people do like my cooking,” or even “Modern medical science is on MY side.”
Over the years, I think that time, growing cultural understanding, deeper local relationships, and hopefully spiritual growth has helped lessen the hurt of such criticism. However, after more than seven years overseas, I still face regular criticism, and I still struggle to respond in a godly manner.
Common Traps in Responding to Criticism
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. -II Corinthians 4:16-18
I believe at the heart of it, our response reflects where our eyes are fixed. When our eyes are fixed on Christ—when we look towards what is unseen and eternal, the “light, momentary affliction” of criticism is much easier to bear. Even to take joy in.
However, being the sinners that we are, it is much easier to turn our focus towards ourselves. This pride can manifest itself in an inflated picture of ourselves, resulting in a very defensive posture. However, that same pride can also manifest itself in self-pity and a diminished picture of ourselves, resulting in discouragement and despair. I tend to fluctuate between the two.
As you evaluate your response to criticism, consider whether or not you have fallen or are presently falling into any of these potential traps:
- The Inflated Picture of Self: This includes becoming defensive and angry towards those who criticize us, becoming bitter and cynical towards individuals or the culture at large, turning into a critical person ourselves, becoming super-sensitive to criticism, or becoming competitive.
- The Diminished Picture of Self: This includes becoming so self-critical that we lose confidence, becoming discouraged and despairing, withdrawing from culture and relationships, comparing ourselves to others, and becoming super-sensitive to criticism.
Evaluating Our Response
If you see yourself in the potential traps, please take heart! These struggles are common to all of us. Let me encourage you to take a step back.
- Repent of whatever sin God is bringing to light in your life.
- Pray for God to renew your focus on Christ—on what is unseen and eternal, not on our light and momentary affliction.
- Seek daily, inward renewal from Christ. This can only come from time spent in prayer and meditation on His Word. It is much easier to forgive when we are seeking forgiveness, and you can more clearly recognize Satan’s lies when we are meditating on truth.
- Seek God’s guidance to repair relationships that may be fraying. We may need to seek forgiveness from others. We may need to plan some family rest/vacation time to rebuild and restore family relationships.
Finding Joy Even in Criticism
Over the past few years, I’ve discovered some real benefits to dealing with all sorts of criticism. Pause. ***There have been times in my worst culture shock moments that I would not have received the previous statement well from someone else. So please don’t get too frustrated or hurl your computer in my general direction.*** You can read the following list when you are ready. But for now, here are some of the blessings I have discovered:
- Personal spiritual growth and sanctification
- An eternal reward
- Learning how to truly love and forgive within the body of Christ
- Gaining specific cultural insights and information
- Learning, over time, to separate out cultural sin from cultural differences
- Growing in compassion for the people in this culture.
- Recognizing specific areas where the gospel meets women in this culture “right where they are”
- Facing what may be uncomfortable truths
- Having an opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love by my reaction
- Sharing (though ever so slightly) in the sufferings of Christ
So, the next time someone corrects your grammar or your parenting or the way you stir your eggs, TAKE HEART! You are not alone in the struggle. And God is more than able to carry you through, shaping you into his image and making you more useful in his service in the process!
Thank you, Joy, for this challenging and helpful look at criticism. Due to space limitations, this article was condensed. If you would like to see the Joy’s full article you may go to: Criticism