Have you ever had times when you overhear a remark, a sermon, someone talking, or even just see a Facebook status, and wonder with raised eyebrows if it's pointed at you?
I have learnt since to take such things with a pinch of salt (to compensate for my personality, a handful) and not let it ruin my day, or a relationship.
Criticism hurts when we take it personally. My teenage years were during the rise of the reality show and specifically, talent show, spearheaded by American Idol. One of the biggest factors making that show entertaining was how the contestants responded to criticism. You've probably seen Worst American Idol Contestants videos or the like on Youtube. The least said about those the better--they make me wince. Cringeworthy is the word, I suppose. In contrast, being able not to take criticism personally was what enabled certain contestants to behave and respond and most importantly, grow, in a mature and effective way.
A confession: before I start sounding like I've mastered the art of taking criticism in a mature way, please be aware that it is unfortunately not the case, whether in daily life or even on this blog. I am still living in trepidation of the inevitable nasty comment. On a side note--I realize that publishing a post and dreading negative comments is probably what it feels like for a preacher every time he steps down from the pulpit. Who's going to take issue today? Who's going to infer that I was talking about someone or a specific event, and feel offended? Who's going to feel unconvinced and try to argue with what I've presented? Considering this gives a good balance to the perspective of being in the congregation and feeling personally attacked by the sermon topic, or the example used in the application. To expand on the saying 'if the hat fits--' there's a good chance they didn't even know your head size. After all, don't we listen to sermons to apply them to our lives? I'm remembering the Sunday School lesson I prepared on the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) It hurts sometimes, of course--but when did the gory process of sanctification not hurt, anyway? It's called dying to yourself for a reason.
But back to nasty comments. I wish I could 'haters gonna hate,' but I can't, so I might as well be honest about it. Haters gonna hate; I'm gonna hurt. But acknowledging that feeling hurt (which is immature, yes, but not wrong!) can be an alternative, and doesn't have to be the inevitable sole reaction, is the first step towards maturity (and liberation.)
So even when criticism causes me to struggle with feeling attacked or hurt, I am at least mentally aware that I don't have to feel this way. You do need to give emotions second thoughts sometimes. Taking a pinch of salt may sound like rubbing salt into the wound; admitting that you're over-sensitive definitely is--but it's surprisingly liberating not to have to take your emotions at face value. For example. I've come to realize that when I'm physically exhausted at the end of a long day, and something negative crops up, it's not quite the best idea to start assessing my life. I can end up convinced the apocalypse is my only hope and my whole existence a demonstration of the wretchedness of the human race, in minutes. A far better alternative is to recognize that the current sunless appearance of life is partially due to physical fatigue, and that a shower, comfortable PJs, and bed would change the colour of my world significantly by the next morning. Emotions are lovely things but they can be absolute tyrants if you don't see them for what they are.
This helped me to realize that every time you feel personally attacked or offended by criticism--whether it's specifically directed at you, or not--it's good to consider what it means to take criticism with maturity.
That would mean being able to discern when criticism is not legitimate--is based on purely personal issues rather than any real grounds. (think YouTube comment wars, that battleground soldiered by straw man arguments. Look at the comment section on Youtube and instantly be convinced of the depravity of man. The fact that someone would go out of their way to tear down something as obscure and insignificant as a video of, for example, young kids learning to play the violin is mind boggling to me. Did anyone force you to watch the video, or claim that it's more than what it is? Does posting hate comments somehow improve the quality of your life, since it definitely destroys the quality of other people's? There is no kindness here, but no logic either. People are messed up.)
That would also mean being able to discern constructive criticism without letting it affect your relationship, your emotional well-being, or your sense of self-identity. If someone questions the amount of time you spend on a hobby, for instance, it shouldn't automatically mean you have to sacrifice a friendship, be plunged into depression, hurt, or betrayal, or feel plagued by guilt or low self-esteem. In nine cases out of ten (hopefully not more than that!) the person doesn't want any of these things to happen. Neither do you, of course. In that case, why make yourself suffer unnecessarily? And in the event of the tenth case, why let malicious attempts to break you down succeed, if you can see they're just hollow excuses to fling some dirt?
Of course that's easier said than done. Having a fragile sense of self-esteem and being vulnerable to the opinions of others comes naturally to us. We care, if any thing, too much about what other people think about us. It's part of being human; no man is an island.
But we don't have to live that way.
We fear God rather than man. We have the Bible to tell us what standards to live by, and what standards to judge ourselves by; and that is enough.
One of my favourite things about the Gospel is how it so perfectly reconciles starkly, even violently different truths. Justice and mercy. Humility and honour. Love and judgement. Similarly, Christ wonderfully embodies, at once, the best and the worst of us. Because of Him, we are perfect. And yet His having to come proves our unworthiness. That we are both at the same time--perfect in God's eyes; sinful, while we are on earth--is a miracle.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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