A good friend, who I consider successful professionally, as a Christian and as a family man, told me recently that one of the more debilitating problems in his life has been his ongoing fear of other people’s opinions. That’s a common problem. We worry so much about what others think of us.
As a pastor, a journalist and a former long-term caregiver, I’ve had to get used to being criticized–sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. I admit I don’t always handle other people’s negative opinions well. But I’m better at it than I used to be.
Here are the lessons I’ve tried to learn:
1. I don’t have to be perfect. Everyone falls short sometimes. If I’ve made a mistake, I’m far from alone. Fortunately, God chooses to work through the ignorant and the weak, as Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 1:27: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (New American Standard version).” It’s OK to mess up.
2. I don’t have to surrender to the burdens of my past failures. If I’ve made a mistake, I need to accept responsibility for it. I need to tell God I’m sorry. I need to tell other people who I’ve failed that I’m sorry. I need to make whatever restitution I can. But then, I need to pick myself up, hold my head high and move forward–doing my best not to make the same mistake again.
3. I don’t have to be ruled by fear. Jesus said in Mark 5:36: “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” I have a choice about whether I’ll be paralyzed by my fear of others’ perceptions. I can choose to trust in God’s grace instead.
4. I should view any criticism I receive as an opportunity to re-evaluate, and possibly to grow. I should ask, “Is this complaint valid? If it is, what I can do to change my performance?” I should improve myself, not beat myself up or quit in frustration.
5. I shouldn’t allow myself to be trapped by overgeneralizations–my own or others’. If I lost my temper today, that doesn’t mean I always lose my temper. Sometimes I turn the other cheek. If I preached a rotten sermon, that doesn’t mean all my sermons are terrible or that I’m in the wrong profession. I may simply have had an off day.
Later this week, I’ll share some more lessons I’m learning in trying to deal with criticism.