The Gracious Response to Criticism

I am one of those writers who has a love-hate relationship with editing. I love editing other people’s work—not that I enjoy telling people they did made a mistake, but there is simply something exhilarating about marking up a page with a red pen and refining a piece of writing. However, I do not enjoy editing my own work. Why? Because often times I spend an hour reading the piece over, making adjustments, searching for typos, and rearranging the piece to have someone else read it and point out numerous more errors that I missed.

I love the people who edit my work, and I am thankful for each of them and their thorough feedback, but it always bothers my “perfectionist tendencies” because it reminds me that I cannot write a perfect piece, whether it be an essay, an article, or story. In my prideful heart, I want to be perfect. I want people to praise me for my excellent writing that needs no editing whatsoever.

But if I was perfect writer, where would be the adventure of growth? When reviewing edits and making the appropriate corrections, I have grown in the craft of writing and learned what to look out for. Without formally teaching, my editors are teaching me ways to improve my writing for the future. Though I don’t enjoy seeing all the red marks scattered over my page, I am learning to find joy in them, knowing they will not only improve the piece at hand, but will also improve my future writing.

In a similar way, I am learning to love the “edit suggestions” other people make in my life for my good. Our natural tendency is to be defensive when others point out our faults, our failings, our sins, or where we have gone wrong either in thinking or action. However, this is not the godly reaction. We must test ourselves and see if their criticism comes out to be true. This doesn’t mean you must always accept their criticism as true even if it’s not. We must learn to properly discern and handle criticism when it comes.

Evaluating Criticism

There are times when criticism is unnecessary and just plain wrong. There are people who are mean and critical for no good reason and simply looking to pick a fight. But we must be careful that we don’t throw away every criticism heedlessly without first seeking any possible truth in it. Sometimes, even the most ruthless of criticisms still have a speck of truth hiding in them.

We can begin evaluating the criticism given to us by checking it against Scripture. If they are calling you out on sin, check to see if the Bible actually defines it as sin. Sometimes what people perceive as sin is only their conscience or preference. For example, some Christians don’t believe in celebrating Halloween while others do. Unless you are sinning while participating in Halloween, another Christian cannot rightfully condemn you for celebrating because there is no clear command in the Bible against it.

If the criticism does pass the biblical test, then you should start evaluating yourself. Have I sinned in this way? Am I guilty? Like with editing our own writing, it can be difficult for us to see sin in our own lives. You may need to ask the person for examples, or talk to a few trusted friends and ask them if they have noticed this problem in your life.

Remember to be humble. Never consider yourself too good to fall into a certain sin. The Bible warns us of this: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NASB). Personally, the sins I said I could never imagine struggling with are the very sins I struggled most with. Keep a humble attitude and be willing to question yourself when confronted.

Attitudes for Accepting Criticism

Accepting criticism does not need to be cringe-worthy. You can find joy in it. Those who criticize you (unless it is done for the sake of cruelty) can prove to be loyal friends. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6 ESV). Find comfort in the fact that someone was looking out for you and possibly seeking your best.

If the person’s kindness is not enough to bring you some sort of comfort, be thankful that someone pointed out an error of weakness or sin to you so that you can improve and grow in your sanctification. Proverbs 11:14 says that a nation falls when it has no counsel, but with an abundance of counsellors a person can find safety.

Because we are so slow to recognize our own sins and blind to our own faults, having others to point them out is a blessing and gift from God. As difficult and awkward criticism may feel in the moment, God’s grace is still prevalent in it. Due to His compassionate love and desire for His own glory, He does not want you to remain in sin. Thanks be to God that He has put others in our lives who are not afraid to speak the truth and show us where we have gone wrong. It is an action of His mercy.

Let’s give up our love-hate relationship with criticism. Together, let’s learn to evaluate criticism properly and joyfully accept it when it is true—whether it be in our writing or our walk with the Lord.