I am convinced that whoever coined the adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was either living in an alternate reality or trying to create a false front to cover up their own internal wounds made by someone’s critical words. Because the truth is, words can be deeply hurtful, even if they are not meant to be. Even off-handed comments can sometimes strike a chord of insecurity and cause self-doubt to set in. I know that as an adult, I am supposed to have “tough skin,” to be able to let critical comments roll off. But I have noticed that a hard, uncaring heart sometimes develops along with that tough skin, and honestly, a tough-skinned, hard-hearted person is not who I aspire to be! Yet I also cannot afford to shut down, curl up on the couch, and quit every time someone looks crosswise at me. So I decided to build a biblical plan of action for dealing with criticism:
1) Look who’s talking. Before I take to heart the advice being offered, I will ask, “Is this person qualified to counsel me in this area? Is he or she walking close to the Lord and speaking from an accurate biblical position?” If so, if this is a person that I do respect and trust, then I need to be willing to listen, even if it seems painful. Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”
2) Limit my emotional response. Because anger and other strong emotions tend to skew good judgment and produce hateful, unretractable words, I will choose not to react or dwell in anger when criticized. James 1:19-20 charges us: “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Proverbs 17:27 calls a man with a “cool spirit” a “man of understanding.” Again, Proverbs 14:29 says, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”
3) Listen with discernment. Sometimes even trusted friends seem unnecessarily critical or a little off in their judgment. My goal in this case is to look past their words to consider what may be going on in their lives, and to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of responding in anger. Colossians 3:12-13 reminds us, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.” And even when advice or criticism comes from someone who is not a trusted mentor or friend, it may contain an element of truth. So I will try to filter through the negativity and honestly assess what I need to act on.
4) Live transparently. Rather than reacting defensively when I feel I am being criticized, I will be honest and admit that I sometimes struggle. While I strive to live a godly life as a whole, I am more gifted in some areas than in others, and I am going to make mistakes. As Romans 12:3 puts it, “…I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
5) Let it go, or let them know. Ephesians 4:25-27 says it perfectly: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” If I find myself feeling resentful, or just cannot completely let something go, talking it out is the biblical solution.
6) Leverage it to God’s glory. Finally, I will seek to glorify God in every situation, even in conflict. Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan (could that have been a person?)” to keep him from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). He asked God to remove it, but God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s response, then, was to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).” Perhaps a loving response to criticism or an expression of care toward the critic is a way to glorify God. Perhaps determination to press on in the face of insecurities will show others the reality of Christ’s presence in my life and cause them to ask about this Jesus I serve.
While I do believe that following these steps will help me respond appropriately to criticism and to not fall prey to insecurity, I also believe that the key to personal confidence is knowing my identity in Christ. So today I will remember that I am “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand…(Ephesians 2:10),” and that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…(Philippians 1:6). ” I will consider the privilege of being a “co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17).” I will live like I am “more than a conqueror” through him who loved me (Romans 8:37). I will recognize that I am part of “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…(1 Peter 2:9).” I will praise God that in Him I am “…a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).”
Lord, help me to live each day in confidence, knowing I am your child. Help me to listen carefully and respond lovingly in my interactions with others, and to glorify you in everything I say and do. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14).”