The other night John and I got an email. You know…one of those emails. The ones that make your heart race and your stomach do flip-flops. An email criticizing something you’ve done or said.
In this case it was me being criticized, but they wanted John, as senior pastor to know.
As a first-born rule-follower, people-pleaser with WOO as one of my strengths, this is just the worst. And being in ministry for 35 years, it’s been my biggest area of growth.
When I was younger, my immediate response would be ALL THE FEELS – embarrassment, shame, righteous indignation, anger, and (as a J on the Meyers Briggs)….. IMMEDIATE ACTION!!
Is is darn hard living with people’s displeasure, whether we’ve made a mistake, or there has been a misunderstanding, or we just disagree. There is no way to make all the people happy all the time.
This is the hardest lesson I’ve learned as a leader: It’s not my job to please everyone, but it is my job to pray and pay attention in order to learn from everyone.
This is the challenge for each of us: To allow criticism to teach us more about God, ourself, and others.
I’ve grown a tiny bit over the years (and I’ve gotten much more used to criticism), so after my brief emotional freak out over this recent email, I settled down, prayed, and went to sleep.
The next morning I prayed again.
- I listed all the issues I thought the critique-r raised.
- I listed all the questions I needed to talk to God about, including “What is true? What is from You? How do I please not the critic, but YOU?”
- Then I went through Scripture typing out any pertinent passage that might inform my thinking about the issues raised.
- I prayed some more.
- I wrote a response to the offended person and asked if we could talk face-to-face, but I didn’t send it immediately. I let it sit and came back to it 5 hours later.
One of our rules is “Never argue in email.” I stand by this because body language, tone, and nuance are so important, and so easy to misinterpret in email, but I also see the value in putting something in writing that others can take the time to read over and process.
- Before I sent it, I asked myself:
- “Does this fail of grace?”
- “Is there pride, resentment, self-righteousness…that I need to confess and deal with before sending this?”
In this case, I was fortunate because the critic who had been offended is someone healthy and well-meaning.
But that’s not always the case. One of the hardest parts of dealing with criticism is letting go.
We do our part. We pray and search for the kernel of truth. We apologize when appropriate, but we can’t control the response of the other.
As Jesus-followers we’re supposed to be all about redemption, forgiveness, and do-overs. We’ve discovered that many give lip-service to those values, but not all are willing to do the hard work of living them out in real-life relationships.
It takes two to come to understanding and reconciliation. It takes two to truly listen to each other with compassionate curiosity. So it’s deeply disappointing when you feel like you’re doing your part, but not getting the response you envisioned.
This is when we need to do the further hard work of opening our hands and praying: “Lord, if I’ve missed anything that is mine to own, please show me. If I’ve done what’s mine, help me to forgive and let go.”
What about you? What has your experience been with criticism, conflict, and crucial conversations?