10: Hearing God in the Midst of the Critics

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI am not the same person I was when I started blogging almost a decade ago. Over the years, I’ve shared my my hopes, my fears, and my growing pains — and believe me, there have been a lot of words poured out. The battle to discover who I am has been a gory one.

I still remember the day that I asked an old friend’s opinion about my new blog. For awhile, I had dabbled in poetry, and freely published my thoughts on controversial topics. As a result, I received a lot of criticism, ranging from people applauding to people telling me that I wasn’t a good Christian. As I go back through my posts, I can see the change taking place. Something in me was starting to go deeper, desiring to put down roots and really delve into this journey of self-discovery, which really turned out to be a journey of God-discovery, too.

People will always criticize, though. That friend I asked about my new blog? He said that it came across as very… Christian. At the time, the comment was a little bit hurtful. It seemed he was implying that my writing about my faith was a negative thing, which was a tad bit ironic, as he himself was a believer who frequently wrote about his own search for truth and meaning.

You don’t have to post about controversial topics in order to receive criticism, though. You don’t even have to be a writer, or someone with a platform. We open ourselves up to criticism simply by walking into the supermarket on Tuesday afternoon. It comes from every direction, and often, the words of others (or ourselves) speak louder than the truth that God is speaking over us.

The Trolling Comment Critics

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet these days, and the hate portion of the relationship can be attributed to these folks who leave trolling comments. They’re the people who think they have a dog in every fight, and that a keyboard makes them all powerful. In real life, they’re the ones who send their food back at least twice at every restaurant they go to, making a fuss about too hot, too cold, wrong sauce, no sauce, and what does that imbecile in the kitchen think he’s doing? And all I want to do is leave a little extra in my tip so that the exasperated server doesn’t start to think that everyone is as rude as the person in the booth adjacent to ours.

For me, they were the people who told me that I was a bad Christian for not believing one way or another, the people who told me to watch out for stones, the people who went out of their way to tag me in their comment so as to notify me that they were big and bad and right, and they were looking right at me. They are the people who invalidate my passions and standards and commitments because I’m young, or because I don’t have children. They are the people whose words pick until my heart bleeds.

Maybe for you, they’re the other moms at church who constantly pick apart how you parent your child, the co workers who engage in water cooler gossip about the presentation you made, or the situation that had just proven too much to handle by yourself. The sideways glance of the woman in the grocery store as your child melts down because you have refused the sticky sweet candy. The sideways glance of the woman in the grocery store as you give in and purchase the sticky sweet candy. Its enough to make you want to crawl into a hole.

Once, I asked my husband if it might feel good to be one of those people for a day. He just shook his head and said no.

Of course, it seems the more pleasant thing to do to walk about my life as if these people don’t affect me, to live by the childhood adage, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. But the truth is, words can easily become daggers, and someone else’s crippled sense of how much a human heart deserves to be valued can lead to exsanguination.valued

I heard this said once, and I’ve had to learn it the hard way, that I don’t have to attend every argument that I’m invited to. That’s not to say that you can avoid every instance of criticism or easily brush off every hurtful remark, but I’ve figured out that it is okay (no, healthy!) to not entertain these critics, and it is crucial to note that the majority of that entertainment happens in our minds. We rehash, over and over, what we could have done differently, and their words play loud on repeat.

A few weeks ago, I had a day just go totally wrong. A client was late to my first appointment, making me late to my second appointment, and I missed the third entirely, only being able to participate by phone. I had asked a coworker to help, and when it became known that I had missed the third meeting, she called me ridiculous. I won’t lie, there were tears. I cried the ugly cry that involves snot and shaking and for a few hours, I was resigned to quit my job and never go back. As I slowly but surely calmed down, I began to realize how much of what had gone wrong was totally out of my control. I had done everything I was supposed to do, to the best of my ability, and still felt like a miserable failure.

Mama said there would be days like that. But you know what? I picked myself up, dusted myself off, had some chocolate, and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I felt better. I had to come to the understanding that what had happened the day before did not determine my worth as a social worker, nor did it assign value to me as a human being.

The Standing Ovation Critics

Recently, I got a letter from a volunteer who serves as an advocate for one of the children on my foster care caseload. The situation that brought about the letter was an awful one, to be sure: the teenager had stolen from her foster parents and lied about it, after which the foster parents asked me to find another placement for the child as soon as possible. It was clear that this child needed help, more help than any of us had initially anticipated. So I made some calls, and a week later, found a group home that had an open bed. They would have round the clock supervision and counseling, and they were knowledgeable about how to deal with the issues this child was facing. The letter was one of praise for the hard work I put in in an effort to make the move happen. I printed it immediately and taped it to my desk, brimming with pride.

But then, I started to feel ill. I had just finished a book about how dangerous it is to crave the praise of man, and there I was, absolutely relishing the acclaim I had just received.  It happens the same way with blogging. A nice comment from a stranger or the notification that I have a new follower can absolutely make my day.

I don’t think that its wrong to feel good about yourself when people say nice things to or about you. But if feeling good about yourself is totally dependent upon what these people are saying, well, that’s another ballgame entirely, and one that you will quickly find to be a losing game, at that.

“Until you are convinced of God’s incredible love for you, you will continue looking for replacement love everywhere but in the heart of Christ.” Jennifer Dukes Lee, Love Idol

The positive comments and emails and the occasional compliments about my hair are nice. But they do not ascribe worth to my life any more than the negative feedback.

The bottom line is that giving other people the power to assign worth to you as a human being can be incredibly dangerous. Sometimes, we are taken advantage of, and the world runs us ragged. Sometimes, people see our parameters and treat them like weaknesses. So where do we turn on the days when things fall apart and we don’t know if we can do it anymore? The same place we turn when the stars seemingly align and everything is going our way: the cross.

Because Jesus sees us for who we are. And while he rejoices when we succeed and grieves when we hurt, he does not identify us by those things. He sees us and says that we are his.

 


The conversation starts here: 

How has criticism, positive or negative, played a part in your story?

What does entertaining the critics look like for you?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}

 

walk

 

Some Fine Print:

This is the tenth of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October.
To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here.
You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog).
Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

  • Melissa Boles

    This is a really wonderful piece, Erin. It’s so hard to ignore those critics, I know that myself, and I think processing through it is really the only way to come to terms with the things that they are saying. Sometimes those critics are wrong, and sometimes they’re right (though they should have said it differently). For years, my mother and I had a strained relationship. She was my biggest critic, and I took everything she said as an indication that there was something wrong with me. I stopped believing her when she said nice things about me. And I started to truly believe that living by the words of my own inner critic was the only way to live. While I have since worked past this, I still have moments where my inner critic is someone that I listen to. I’m still searching for God. And I don’t really know what that relationship is going to look like, but I will tell you that I’m going to keep this post in my arsenal to make my journey a bit easier. <3

    • Oh, wow. Thank you for sharing your story here, Melissa. You are braver than you know. Let me know how I can pray for and encourage you in your journey.

    • Oh, wow. Thank you for sharing your story here, Melissa. You are braver than you know. Let me know how I can pray for and encourage you in your journey.

  • Melissa Boles

    This is a really wonderful piece, Erin. It’s so hard to ignore those critics, I know that myself, and I think processing through it is really the only way to come to terms with the things that they are saying. Sometimes those critics are wrong, and sometimes they’re right (though they should have said it differently). For years, my mother and I had a strained relationship. She was my biggest critic, and I took everything she said as an indication that there was something wrong with me. I stopped believing her when she said nice things about me. And I started to truly believe that living by the words of my own inner critic was the only way to live. While I have since worked past this, I still have moments where my inner critic is someone that I listen to. I’m still searching for God. And I don’t really know what that relationship is going to look like, but I will tell you that I’m going to keep this post in my arsenal to make my journey a bit easier. <3

  • Kate, aka Guavalicious

    Thanks for this. I think critical voices can be from outside like the ones your spoke of, or internal. I find that I beat myself up a lot and when you are already down on yourself you take the voices of outside critics more to heart. Last night at Zumba, I was dancing to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off and it was awesome for lifting that critical cloud. I highly suggest it!!

  • Kate, aka Guavalicious

    Thanks for this. I think critical voices can be from outside like the ones your spoke of, or internal. I find that I beat myself up a lot and when you are already down on yourself you take the voices of outside critics more to heart. Last night at Zumba, I was dancing to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off and it was awesome for lifting that critical cloud. I highly suggest it!!

    • Ha! Gotta love that Taylor Swift. Thanks for visiting, Kate!

  • You nailed it, Erin. This in particular, struck me: “The positive comments and emails and the occasional compliments about my hair are nice. But they do not ascribe worth to my life any more than the negative feedback.”

    I often return to the words of Paul, who said that human opinion meant “very little.” So for me, if someone criticizes, it means “very little.” And it someone praises, it means “very little.” That gives me the freedom to receive praise, without craving it or without letting it ascribe worth. Harder, of course, is applying the Very Little principle when someone nails you with hurtful words. But the principle helps me back away from the sting, and put it in proper perspective.

    Thank you, Erin, for your thoughtful words here.

    • Honored to have you here, Jennifer. Love that we have this freedom. Thankful for how Christ graciously claims us.

  • Tara Ulrich

    Beautiful post! So easy to get caught up but you are right. The compliments etc are nice but they aren’t the be-all end-all. God calls us as Gods children graciously and freely!

  • Love this! Once we no longer find our identity in the approval of others, when we finally accept God’s delight in us as the supreme fulfillment, then can we do what we love with no fear of the criticism of others. Great post.