Have you ever struggled when someone criticizes something you’ve done? I sure have.
One Sunday afternoon I found myself slipping into a light depression after a faithful member of our church shared with me some things I’m doing in our church he thought needed to be changed. Eventually I realized what he shared with me was true and needed to be changed, but the impact it had on me was troubling.
At first I found myself defending my actions. It was obvious I was a bit hurt so my friend stated what’s typically said at such times, “It’s not personal.” As I paused and thought about it for a moment, everything within me wanted to shout, “It sure feels personal, and how can it not be personal when I’m the person doing it?” Fortunately I’ve learned enough self-control and have enough wisdom to keep my mouth shut at times like that.
As my wife and I traveled home from church that afternoon there was an uneasy silence in the car. She had been in on the discussion and knew where I was and what I was feeling. She wisely decided to give me space to figure this out myself. From past experience she realized nothing would change in me through her attempts to help me understand things better. A somber atmosphere prevailed throughout the afternoon and into the evening despite the kind and gentle gestures I received from my wife.
My initial attempts to sleep that night were futile. I tossed and turned and felt heaviness and sadness in my soul. Finally I got out of bed and headed for my study. There I knelt before the Lord and opened my heart to share with him my pain. I tearfully expressed my need for Him - to be filled with Him and to live in Him. I gave the situation to the Lord and asked for His will to be accomplished. My heart was consumed with the Scripture from Acts 17:28 “for in Him we live and move and have our being…” I repeated it over and over, “My life is yours Lord. I want you and I want you to fill me completely, Lord.”
Soon a wonderful peace filled my heart. I realized things would be OK. If my brother was right and I needed to change, even if it was embarrassing and humbling, it would be OK. No longer was I feeling sad, disturbed and depressed about the situation. I returned to bed and had a sound night of sleep.
For the next few days I thought about the issues and asked others on our church leadership team what they thought.
Once again, during my devotional time I took this situation to the Lord. That time my concern wasn’t the suggested changes I should make, rather why I was hurt and why I take criticism personally. While I’m still in the process of discovering the answers, some things became clearer to me.
It is very difficult for me to separate what I do from who I am, especially as a minister of the Gospel. I believe strongly that the actions and conduct of a person are expressions of the 'real person'. Many times people say one thing about themselves but that really is not who they are - what they actually do shows who they are. Therefore, separating what I do from who I am is extremely difficult for me. When there is a criticism about what I do, it feels like a criticism about me as a person.
As I prayed about those concepts my eyes began to open a bit. The things I do in life won’t be perfect and continually need adjusting and evaluation. The things I do in life will at times fall short of the mark. But the person God has made me is always unconditionally loved, valued and fully accepted by God. As a person, I’m not looked at by God as one who has failed, even though at times my actions fail. I’m looked at by God as a loved son who is growing.
I thought about my friend who had shared his critique with me. He wasn’t trying to say something bad about me as a person. I know he loves me and values me (he tells me and shows me that all the time). He simply sees something I am doing, that he feels needs to be changed. That’s all. It’s REALLY not personal. Now I’m beginning to understand.
My prayer is that God will continue to open and heal my overly sensitive heart from the tendency to take criticism personally. I’m glad I’ve taken the first step and I know there will be many more as I travel the road of life.
BTW - A few weeks have now past since that encounter. The suggstion my friend made were right and the changes we've made have proven to be a real blessings to the church.