Monday, December 21, 2009

Dealing with Criticism

Our natural responses to criticism are related to our god-like views of ourselves and an inner perception we may hold that our purity is unassailable. Only one who is humble and convinced of his/her own inadequacies (or sinfulness) can honestly assess criticism, ignore the feeling of woundedness to step back and take the spiritual view of what s/he may have said or done to elicit such critique.

It's crucial for us to know ourselves -- I chuckled at one blogger's quoting Edwin Friedman (the late author & speaker on emotional processes within family/ congregational systems) as telling him to "Define the hell out of yourself." If we don't humbly understand and seek understanding about ourselves from both our own interior view and the exterior views of how others perceive us we simply cannot know what criticism is valid or invalid when someone or some group blows us out of the water with their criticism-bombs.

As most of
those who've lived long enough probably have had, I've had plenty of painful opportunities to deal with others' harsh criticisms. Words are frequently spoken and written about others to tear them down, not to build up, not to help them mature, not to edify, but to "finalize" them in judgment (as Arthur Frank noted). Friedman also said, "...if you are a leader, expect sabotage." I'd add another insight to his that being a leader is not simply indicated by one's position or title! I've often wondered what the reactions of Jesus' teachers were when they realized that their student was more gifted, insightful and wise than they were. Many teachers and people with positional authority will sabotage their own students or subordinates who threaten them and their illusion of their own superiority or "greatness."

Tim Keller quoted John Newton as saying,

"Whatever...makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit."

Keller's blog ends with another quote appropriate to our task as Christians:

"A man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others."

May we always look to the Lord, being wary of the pride within, and seeking to emulate the humility and service of Christ himself.

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