I’ll be completely honest with you: I can’t stand to be criticized. And it’s not that I think I’m above criticism—certainly not. It’s just that criticism has this way of . . . crushing me. That’s right—it knocks the breath right out of me, and leaves me dizzy on the floor.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one to get angry when someone has a problem with me or something I’ve done. But I do lose my cool, for sure. For me, that means I toss out everything I’ve ever learned about grace and acceptance through Jesus, and I become a raging Pharisee for a moment, completely devastated that my self-righteousness didn’t pass someone’s test, completely frustrated with myself and others.
Here’s the thing: nobody loves to be criticized, but we all know that it’s going to happen, and it will probably happen pretty regularly for the rest of our lives. So are we going to lose our cool when our best efforts don’t impress others? Or are we going to see the redeeming value of criticism in light of the gospel and receive it with thankfulness?
A good rule of thumb for us to keep in mind is that God is continually working to increase our capacity for criticism. That’s because sanctification, the process of being shaped by God’s grace to look more like Jesus, is essentially criticism. What God is doing in us day by day through testing and trials and suffering is exposing parts of our hearts that are not fully submitted to him. He is demonstrating to us the ways in which we must learn to trust him and stop trusting in our own insight and experience and ability. God is criticizing us—he’s pointing out our sin and weaknesses. He’s being good to us.
Think about it: the gospel itself is a criticism against us. It says, “You are not good enough. You need Jesus. You must change. You must repent. You need grace. You can’t change on your own. Nothing you do impresses God.” God is perfect; we are not. Does that make you feel small? It should.
But the gospel isn’t just a criticism against us; it is also a hope for us. The gospel opens our eyes and hearts to the mercy of criticism; it becomes a means of grace to us. It gives us a hope to filter our inadequacy through. It serves to keep us knit together where we used to fall apart. Painful words don’t have to send us into fits anymore. We don’t have to hide our faults or get defensive when they’re pointed out.
Instead, the gospel gives us the full assurance that God completely accepts us, and that our inadequacies and imperfections and failures aren’t final judgments against us, but occasions for God to demonstrate his special love and grace toward us. We can face our critics with love and hope, knowing that they are God’s instruments for chiseling away our own self-reliance.
So the lesson for me is this: don’t be crushed by criticism. Take it for what it is. Many times it is legitimate, and we can learn from it and thank God for it. Criticism has a way of stretching us out and increasing our ability to handle the difficulties of being imperfect and living with imperfect people. It’s God’s way of changing and redeeming us.
Does that make you feel loved? It should.