“It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Luke 21:13-15 (HCSB)
Criticism stinks. That’s usually my first thought when someone makes it clear they don’t like something I’ve done or said.
My pride says, “How dare you!”
My heart says, “I want a chance to explain.”
My soul says, “Jesus, am I off base?”
My mind says, “Why do I open myself up like this?”
My feelings say, “Ouch.”
Sometimes criticism is fair. Maybe I messed up and it would serve me well to reconsider. Other times criticism is nothing but rotten spew. And boy, does it stink. But if I get stuck in the stink, it serves no good purpose.
Might there be another way to look at harsh criticism? Is there a way to get past the hurt to see something about the one criticizing me that will soften my heart toward them?
Recently, I stumbled on an article about the armadillo lizard. This fascinating creature has hard and pointy scales that have “Don’t mess with me” written all over them. But, like all tough creatures, this lizard has a vulnerable place.
The armadillo lizard’s tough exterior wraps around its back but softens at the underbelly. When threatened, the lizard grabs its tail and displays a prickly, intimidating posture to keep other creatures away. At that point, the rest of the body serves only one purpose — to hide and protect its most vulnerable part.
So what does a strange desert creature have to do with criticism?
In an effort to protect my underbelly, I sometimes get all wrapped up in myself and tragically forget the underbelly of my critics — the place where they are vulnerable and might be hiding things, protected beneath their harsh words and a prickly exterior.
This is a place they may never let me see. It’s the storage place for their hurts and disappointments. It holds the root cause of their skepticism and the anger that probably has very little to do with me. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34b, NIV). And from the overflow of their hurt, they spewed.
Remember … behind every harsh critic is usually a broken-hearted person desperate for love.
If I forget the other person’s vulnerability, I am tempted to start storing up my own hurt, skepticism, anger and disappointments.
If I remember this underbelly, I have a much greater chance to keep it all in perspective. I can let my reaction be a good example to this other person just as our key verse, Luke 21:13-15 reminds us: “It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness. Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”
When criticism comes — and it will — I must make up my mind not to worry about defending myself. I can resist the urge to become prickly and use it as an opportunity to be a witness. A witness of the love, grace and mercy of Jesus. Things I desperately need myself.
Dear Lord, thank You for this challenge to think about the other person’s underbelly before I react to criticism. I know it’s a simple step, but it’s so hard to live out. Help me put this truth into practice and to walk in the wisdom You have already given me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY:
1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (NIV)
Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.” (NLT)
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Learn more about responding with honesty and kindness in the face of offense with Lysa TerKeurst’s book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. You can purchase your copy here and start learning how to find peace even in your most difficult relationships.
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Is there someone in your life who is consistently critical of you? Spend some time praying specifically for that person today. Ask God to show you how you can best be a witness to her, and ask Him to bring healing to her wounded and vulnerable places.
Sometimes we ourselves are the critical ones. Choose someone whom you would normally be critical of and focus on one way you can sincerely encourage her this week.