“Darling,” she asked that morning, “What would you like for breakfast? “
He growled, “Coffee and toast, grits and sausage, and two eggs ‑ one scrambled and one fried.”
She soon had the food on the table and waited for a word of praise. After a quick glance, he exclaimed, “Well, if you didn’t scramble the wrong egg!”
Now that’s hard to please!
Of course, critics are nothing new. As long as people have aspired to rise above the level of the mediocre masses there have been people who attacked their motives for doing so.
As long as people have exhibited qualities of leadership there have been those in positions of power who used verbal attacks, “coaching,” and “constructive criticism” to “keep them in their place” and maintain control.
As long as somebody has offered to try to make something better by (gasp!) changing some things, there have been gossips and fish heads who questioned their right to be there, or anywhere for that matter.
Other than politics, nowhere will you find more criticism than the kind that’s hurled around in the name of God or religion. And if that describes you, I have a message for you: God just called and He wants His name back.
Jesus in the Critics’ Den
Ever feel as though you just can’t do anything right? You’re in some pretty good company if you’re being beaned from the cheap seats. No less that Jesus Christ said this:
“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:31-35).
When someone has a critical spirit, there’s no pleasing them. But don’t tell that to your favorite people pleaser! They (okay, we) live in a magical world of make-believe that says if we just try harder, search longer, or be more awesome we can find the secret formula for winning the praises of the hard-to-please.
Fat chance. It ain’t gonna happen, and here’s why. If somebody with a critical spirit approves of you or your ideas, in their internal system they’re admitting to being wrong. Approving of you or anything about you creates an internal bucketload of problems for them. It’s a whole lot easier for them to just try to nitpick all your courage or persistence away.
Remember, too, that public opinion is incredibly fickle. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s zero. And today’s reject just may be a prophet from God.
People often criticize in an attempt to escape action. As mentioned in the quote above, both Jesus and John called for action. Criticism is a thinly-veiled attempt to dodge that. Why take life-changing action when I can stand around and talk about it and cling to my own agenda for my life?
Things have a way of coming around. “Wisdom is vindicated by her children,” Jesus said. Translation: time will tell, and today’s critic doesn’t have the last word. Vocal people have the ability to create a stir for the moment. But real value – whether it’s a person’s life, their ministry, their life’s work, or their world impact – speaks louder over the long haul.
Three Stupid Emotional Assumptions
Criticism is powerful because it plays off the emotional assumptions of people pleasers. How do I know? Because in my weaker moments I’m one of those people pleasers! Those assumptions, however, are a lie. Here are three that have kept me in the critics’ den:
In many of these circumstances, I was dealing with people who wanted to control something that I felt was mine (before God) to manage. I felt torn because I wanted to please people and yet at the same time I wanted them to see things the same way I did. That left me with the inescapable (false) conclusion that I must be damaged goods.
There will always be people who believe you’re too sinful, too stupid, too powerful, or too beneath them to give you the freedom to act as your own priest unto God. They insist on having the last word on your life, but would bristle at the idea of you returning the favor. If you buy into that emotionally, you’ve given shame the high ground in your battle to be healthy.
2. Criticism or confrontation means I’m wrong.
Another lie. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a stand for what is right, or for what you’re called to do.
Criticism may simply be a request for clearer communication. It may be the leverage needed to improve on an immature idea of yours. It may be God’s way of exposing an arrogant idiot and showing the rest of the world what they’re made of.
That’s why when somebody does voice criticism that you don’t automatically give in or rush to abandon your ideas. You may be 100% right, but if you can’t stand and defend it, you’ll spend the rest of your life in an emotional wheelchair.
3. Disagreement is personal rejection.
It isn’t. Often it isn’t about you at all. But if you’re like me, you may tend to take things personally when you’re afraid of confrontation. Sometimes your critics are for you, just not for your idea. Those will be easy to spot, because they actually show up in person and offer solutions or suggestions for improvement.
This is where a little detachment is healthy. Be willing to separate yourself from your ideas or plans long enough to consider others’ points of disagreement – especially if it’s someone you are convinced has your best interest at heart. You may decide to move ahead against their opinion or advice. If they’re truly for you, they’ll love you even when they don’t agree.
If you’re living in the critics’ den, here’s a little encouragement for you. First, anticipate criticism if you’re doing anything worthwhile. Listen, but don’t automatically accept it as gospel. Your growth, your action, your focus on solutions stands as a rebuke of the power-hungry and the mediocre. They’ll either have to get busy or get to barking. Anticipate barking. Lots of barking.
Also, be extremely careful not to be sucked into the reasoning of someone else’s critical spirit. Your brain chemically goes to a completely different place when you begin believing the cruel cheap shots that are flung in your direction – and it’s not a place you want to be. Anything worth doing is worth defending if you know it’s the right thing to do.
While you’re at it, examine your own heart for a critical spirit. One of the ways to recognize it is by guarding against prejudiced thoughts like the one Nathaniel asked in the Bible: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” When you find yourself surprised that something good actually came from a liberal or a person of another ethnic background, or someone not on the official leadership team, or a Millennial (just kidding), maybe it’s time for an honest self-assessment.
Finally, as Jesus suggested, live for the long haul. Take action as God leads for the moment, and don’t ever assume the last word has been spoken. Wisdom really is vindicated by her children… which means you may not actually live long enough to say, “I told you so!”
Criticism hurts. But it can also help. Just remember that you don’t have to apologize for who you are or for the fact that you, your organization, your work, or your ideas exist. You don’t need the nods of the local Scribes or Pharisees to justify your existence.
Be approachable and teachable. But you’d better mix a little courage in with that or you’ll always find yourself scrambling the wrong egg.
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