Learning from Criticism, Part 1

All of us have faced criticism.

Maybe you wilted under the negative words of a childhood teacher. Perhaps your father was harsh and judgmental. Or maybe you suffered from cutting peer comments as a teenager. Criticism can wither our spirits and kill our confidence. But if viewed with an open, inquisitive heart, criticism can also positively teach us a great deal about others and ourselves. If we respond wisely, correction can be a conduit to personal insight and growth.

The School of Hard Knocks taught me that my first reaction to criticism is often to put up a wall of defense. I prefer not to listen to hard things about me—who does? But this tactic prevents me from listening and honestly evaluating what’s being said.

Over the years I’ve learned the following lessons about responding to criticism.

Listen with an open mind.

When we’re corrected, criticized, evaluated, or confronted, our spirit (emotions) reacts protectively.

  • We refute.
  • We argue.
  • We explain.
  • We blame.
  • We justify.
  • We take a defensive stance.

Why? Because we feel attacked. Criticism, correction, and anger stir our emotions. These emotions in themselves aren’t wrong; the difficulty comes with how we handle how we feel. What motives do we allow to control our thoughts?

Pride?

I’ll show them.

No way, not me!

Fear and suspicion?

They’re probably getting ready to fire me.

Marybeth is probably behind this.

Self-doubt?

They’ve always had it in for me.

I knew I’d mess this up.

Revenge?

They can’t do this to me. I’m not letting them get away with this.

Oh yeah, they don’t know who they’re messing with.

Listen actively. If a group is speaking to you, observe their demeanor and attitude, as well as their words. Do they appear angry? Betrayed? Disrespected? Do they feel you have let them down in some way? What reasons are they stating for their position? What actions on your part may have contributed to these feelings?

Ask questions to promote clarity and insight.
Respond positively to those speaking to you.
Provide feedback but do not argue.
Promote emotional safety with your tone, body language, and word choice.
Put away all distractions like cell phones, tablets, laptops.
Ask clarifying questions.

When someone comes to you with criticism, correction, or even anger, don’t react emotionally. Work through your emotions later. Prayerfully determine to listen with an open mind.

  • Don’t refute.
  • Don’t argue.
  • Don’t blame.
  • Don’t justify.
  • Don’t defend.

Listen for the core issues. Communicate sincerity with your body language and eye contact. Write down their concerns.

Accept correction with a humble heart.

Our first reaction is typically to recoil and defend ourselves. But no one is perfect, and we’re usually blind to our biggest flaws. Ask God for a humble spirit and to give you insight into your words, actions, and motives. We often have multiple motives, and while we may do something for a good reason, a selfish motive may also be present.

Be honest with yourself and God and keep your heart focused on repentance, reconciliation, and renewed thinking.

Pray about the offense/s.

Take time to read through the feedback and pray about it. Examine your words, actions, and motives. Be brutally honest with yourself. What about your words and actions led this person or these individuals to see you in this way? What are you responsible for? How could you have acted more appropriately in this circumstance? Are you willing to acknowledge responsibility for thoughtless or hurtful behavior? What has the Holy Spirit revealed to you about you and the steps you should take?

Be eager to grow and change.

Pastor Emeritus Louie Konopka of Blythefield Hills Baptist Church in Rockford, Michigan often says, “The greatest day in your life is the day you face yourself and see yourself as God sees you. This is the day God can begin to change you.”

I’ve had three such days in my life. Each began with painful rebuke. And each was the threshold of a period of transformational growth. When the 3rd occasion came, I’d learned to embrace the confrontation as another opportunity for spiritual growth.

Don’t cower before correction and criticism. Respond to them as instruments of self-reflection, self-discovery, and spiritual growth.

“As for you [Satan], you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .”
(Gen. 50:20).

How have you handled criticism and used it for personal growth? I’d love to hear from you.
Shelly

Stay tuned for the next blog on criticism: When Criticism Turns Toxic

 

 

 

Laying It Down for Love

 

A single friend once asked me why parents take their children on vacation. Why not go alone, without the hassles: whining and disputes, added cost, giving up your adult agenda to eat at McDonald’s, go to water parks, zoos, or marine land? Shouldn’t vacation be about getting away from the stress of life?

Most parents I know can relate to the idea that parenting can be stressful. But despite the unpredictability, parents take joy in granting their children’s dreams and watching them delight in simple things like swimming, hiking, collecting shells, or identifying the stars. Laying down our desires in the best interests of our children is a part of parenthood that comes easily to most of us.

My husband and I had the opportunity to visit Disney World and many other theme parks when we served as sponsors for high school trips where Dan taught. But the first time I visited Disney World with our children, I cried tears of joy. We were giving our son and daughter an imagination-filled, memorable trip I thought would be impossible.

Love motivates us to lay down our preferences for those we love. 

Last night I slept on a well-used couch and couldn’t care less. Why? I’m visiting my beloved daughter’s family and grandchildren who I seldom get to see. Love keeps the main thing the main thing. My husband Dan and I are with them and our family is together. Who cares about sleeping on a couch? Not me.

1 Peter 4:13 says, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings…”

Our deep love for Jesus should stir us to willingly partake in His sufferings.

But what does it mean to partake in Jesus’s sufferings? His suffering was unlike you and me can experience because He suffered according to the will of God, according to 1 Peter 4:19. Because Jesus understood God’s will, He knew what He was to do in every situation. Our job is to “partake” or choose to imitate Jesus in these acts of obedience out of our deep love for Him.

Lay down our agendas and preferences to serve others. Jesus’s purpose was to carry out the Father’s will. Jesus was compelled by love for God the Father and submitted every thought and action to Him. Do we willingly lay down our plans and ambitions so God can conform our heart and our desires to His own?

  • Love does not insist on its own way (1 Cor. 13:5).
  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit (Phil. 2:3).
  • In humility count others more significant than yourselves (Phil. 2:3).
  • Look…to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
  • Have the same mindset as Jesus in your relationships with others (Phil. 2:5).Cloth
  • Lay aside sin and weight that causes conflict, discouragement, anger, resentment, and bitterness (Heb. 12:1).

Learn to see through other people’s eyes. To teach us this, God often takes us through experiences that force us to think differently and confront our prejudices and blind spots. He may ask us to serve people who are difficult for us to be around because He needs to teach us important lessons in humility, compassion, empathy, listening, patience, gentleness, and give us insight into our motives and goals.

  • Clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Col 3:12).
  • Comfort others with the comfort God gives us (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
  • Be united in Christ (Phil. 2:1-3).
  • Practice honest self-examination (Matthew 7:3-5).
  • Incline your heart to understanding others (Prov. 2:2).
  • Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).

In recent years, God gifted me with challenging relationships that taught me to see the world from other people’s perspectives. Without these relationships, I would not have learned lessons of compassion, grace, mercy, and evaluated blind spots in my spiritual life. The greatest lesson I learned was that spiritual growth and following Christ are not about comfort but about joy and fulfillment.

In laying down what I falsely believe to be my rights, I find my greatest freedom and joy.

What about you? Have you been challenged to lay down your rights, your goals, your plans, your dreams for God’s greater vision? How did you respond? What was the result? I would love to hear from you.

Growing in Gratitude

I chose the word growing as my focus for 2019.

Grant this former English and writing teacher/professor a little grace as I throw in a brief grammar lesson. Growing is the present continuous form of the verb grow. “So what?” I hear you asking. Well, this means the action of growing is happening now, and it’s also continuing into the future.

 

I want growth that produces
momentum for greater growth.

 

I don’t want to just grow, I want to bloom in every aspect of my life. But even more importantly, I want my growth that produces momentum for greater growth–especially in the most important dimension of my life, my spiritual life. One important goal for growth for me this year is growing in gratitude.

I struggled in this area for many years. It’s not that I didn’t say “thank you,” and feel grateful for the things I had. I took people for granted. I took God’s presence and blessings in my life for granted. These things showed up in a critical spirit and a victim mentality. I was pretty much blind to these things until people who loved me graciously held me accountable. I talk about this journey more fully in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Though Patterns to the Word of God.

 

God gives us the ingredients for growing in our spiritual life:
the Word of God,
the Spirit of God,
and the people of God.

 

Gratitude means more than saying “thank you” or acknowledging that we’re blessed. We convey gratitude in actions we choose and the attitudes we convey to others. We express gratitude in our nonverbal language. We show gratitude through joyous generosity that flows from humble awareness of all God’s given us.

Gratitude is the rain
that nourishes the seed of forgiveness.

 

Gratitude is the sun that melts the proud heart and graces the humble with quiet power.

But how does growing in gratitude work on a practical level?

 

I love my husband, and I’m enormously grateful for many things about him. I can tell him I’m grateful for him a dozen times a day. I can write my thoughts in cards. I can display them on the bathroom mirror in red lipstick.

But my words mean nothing if my attitude and actions don’t match. I negate what I say if

  • I ignore him because I’m too engrossed in my own priorities.
  • I use sarcasm and criticism that disrespect him.
  • I do things behind his back that I know he disapproves of.
  • I talk disrespectfully about him when I’m with friends.

True gratitude expresses itself in ways
that can be seen and sensed.

  • Sacrifice
  • Humility
  • Service
  • Respect
  • Looking out for the best interests of the other
  • Forgiveness and reconciliation

For me, this comes down to paying attention to my self-talk. This is where I discover my true motives and priorities. As I examine my self-talk, I discover that my self-interests often crowd out gratitude and love for others. You can find more information about self-talk in my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk: Conforming Deadly Thought Patterns to the Word of God.

Gratitude grows as I grasp God’s love for me and compels my heart to conform to His.

Ask God to magnify your appreciation for all He’s done for you. Ponder the blessings of your life–large and small. Then ask Him to increase your heart of sacrifice, humility, service, respect, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Gratitude is a lifestyle and a mindset.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

Lamentation 3:22-2

 

What about you? How do you show gratitude in your life? How do you want to grow spiritually this year?

 

 

Finding Shelter in the Storms of Life

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

My husband and I are motorcycle enthusiasts, and for years we enjoyed long-distance rides with our friends Marcia and Steve. On one occasion when we were riding in Colorado, an electrical storm bore down on us when we were riding through a vast expense of open road. We could see the fury of the storm headed our way and immediately looked for shelter to find protection from the deadly lightening bolts striking the earth.

Over the course of my life, I’ve faced personal storms. Many have felt deadly, and I’ve pleaded with God for shelter. But the storm I faced in Colorado, as well as others taught me an important lesson.

Experiencing God’s shelter in times of crisis isn’t a passive experience.

Finding shelter requires us to seek God.

That day on our motorcycles, we saw danger and quickly began to look for shelter. We didn’t expect someone to bring a building and erect it over our heads. Finding shelter was our responsibility. We needed the discernment not to look for a building with a steel roof or to park our bikes under a cluster of tall trees. Too often when we’re in a place of crisis, we throw up prayers asking for protection, but then we go and do something foolish, like sitting down next to a body of water during an electrical storm.

God is our only source of safety.

When we understand this is true, we focus our eyes on Him. We trust His character. We listen for His voice by spending time in prayer and in the Word.  Is this easy when we’re hurting? No. It’s easier to pull the covers over our heads and feel like a victim or blame God for the pain. It takes concerted effort to direct our burdened heart away from our sick child, our wayward spouse, our unpaid bills, that new diagnosis, our broken heart. But focusing on God does not mean covering our eyes in the storm and pretending it’s not there. It means trusting His goodness, mercy, and love to be our shelter in the storm.

 

Finding shelter means choosing to trust God’s immeasurable love when circumstances don’t make sense.

The world will never make sense. Circumstances will always break our hearts because the world is infested with sin, and the final solution to sin isn’t put into motion until Jesus comes again.

Our only shelter, our only hope, is God’s love, which is beyond our ability to comprehend. His love, His mercy, and His grace are our shelter. That day in Colorado, we drove for miles looking for shelter, but God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him, and He will be our refuge and strength (Ps. 46:1).

How have you found shelter in God? We’d love to hear from you.

How to Cast Your Burdens for Good

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Recently I’ve been having pain in my shoulders. I’ve developed problems with my rotator cuff  because I tend to carry things that are too heavy for me.

This is particularly annoying to me because a few years ago my doctor ordered physical therapy for this problem. Of course, I was advised not to carry heavy things, but I tend to think I’m superwoman. My thinking goes like this: “I’m the only person who can do this,” or “It needs to be done right now.” Then there’s, “But it’s really not that heavy.”

My stubbornness gets me in trouble, and I end up paying the price.

Self-sufficiency often increases my burdens.

1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our anxiety on the Lord because He cares for us. My tendency is to give my anxieties a gentle toss and then quickly go pick them up again. This is the kind of thinking is I’ve applied to my rotator cuff.: “I know better. I can do it myself.”

Except I can’t. My self-efforts cause me even more pain.

Casting our burdens should be like throwing our worries into the current of Niagara Falls, trusting they are forever swept away in its power.

Casting our burdens on the Lord means trusting His power. Like the powerful Niagara Falls, He will sweep them away. We don’t ever have to pick them up again because His love is so mighty, He can only do good. While we aren’t promised shelter from life’s storms, we are promised shelter in the storms. We can trust God because of His loving, sacrificial, unchanging nature. He promises to work even life’s greatest heartaches and seeming disasters for our good.

When you give God your problems, imagine them tumbling one-by-one over Niagara Falls and swept into His hands.

This simple visual help me. It helps me think about the power of Go and my own powerless to control my life. Yet my compulsion to control what I cannot or should not can drive my behavior. Standing beside the Niagara River at the side of the falls terrifies me. My husband grew up in the Buffalo area, and I know stories of those who lost their lives in the raging waters. When I think of

Then tell yourself they’re gone because they are, if you leave them in His hands.

Then turn to God in faith and talk to Him about it.

Ask Him for your desire.

Ask Him to work out the circumstances for His glory.

Focus on the character of God and His past faithfulness.

Pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And trust God to control things you cannot or should not. He is committed to your good.

 

What about you? Do you struggle with anxiety and trusting God with your struggles? How have you handled this issue in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

Shelly

When It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

By Shelly Beach

When we hear the word “Christmas,” our minds typically run to festivities, food, family, gifts, and gatherings. But for many people, Christmas can feel far from joyful. The realities of life ultimately bring separation, grief, loss, brokenness, and other challenges. Physical, relational, and circumstantial blows can overwhelm us. We may  feel we don’t have the strength to face the holiday season and be tempted to withdraw from those who want to offer support.

The Christmas blues can also come from harried schedules, unmet expectations, busted budgets, shopping burn-out, and the pressure that comes with gathering imperfect and unique family members under one roof.

Many of my friends are separated from their loved ones at Christmas. One friend’s husband just received word of an advanced stage recurrence of his cancer. Another dear friend’s husband recently left her–and took the kids. And a beloved couple I know is facing potential homelessness after discovering their new home is infested with toxins.

Where do we draw comfort during the holiday season, when the world seems to be celebrating?

Psalm 19:7-8 tells us that God’s Word is sure and reassures our soul: “”The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul . . . the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart . . . ” God never leaves us. He is for us. He promises to bring good out of the messes of our life. When life looks like chaos, we can trust His love.

Isaiah 9:6 tells us

“For unto us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

True comfort comes in knowing Jesus came to be God with us in our sorrow and pain.

Jesus placed Himself among strangers in a filthy world of disease, dysfunction, deception, and despair. Why? To experience our pain, to walk among us, to take on human form so He could truly know us. But God’s Son ultimately traded heavenly perfection for earthly brokenness so He could be crushed by the weight of the corporate sins of the world–an agony we cannot possibly imagine.

Christmas is about love so great that God chose the pain of the world.

Immanuel. God with us. God, who was born in a chilly, damp barn in the cold, rainy winter season. God, whose first breaths were of dirt and dung, a new mother who did not know the luxury of a shower, and a father’s work-roughened hand upon his face.

This is Christmas–God with us, in the blood, sweat, and tears of this world.

Our Savior.

Our Wonderful Counselor, who gives us wisdom for the asking.

Our Mighty God, who has already won our battles for us.

Our Everlasting Father, who offered His only Son to die in our place so we could live in freedom.

Our Prince of Peace, who offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and security in the storms of life.

Glory to God in the highest.

 

As a gift to you, please listen to the song “It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas This Year,” written by Steve Siler, founder and Executive Director of MusicfortheSoul.org. To play the song, click HERE, then click on the Preview button at the bottom of the screen.

Five Things to Tell Yourself Every Morning

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spring out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. My body hurts. I’m still tired. I don’t want to sweep the kitchen again and find spatters on the mirror that I washed yesterday. I need to hit the shower and grab breakfast.

The thing I need most each morning is to start my day affirming who I am, why I’m here, and how much God loves me.

Why? Because every day untrue messages about our identity and purpose inundate our mind, soul, and spirit. For instance,

  • You’re not enough.
  • Your purpose is to be good, do good, and just keep on swimming.
  • If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
  • Money, sex, and power are the keys to happiness.
  • Revenge is sweet.
  • You can never really trust someone’s love.
  • In order to be worth it you need to (fill in the blank).

The only truth we can ever rely on is God’s truth. He alone is unchanging, all-knowing, and forgave every sin and mess we would ever create before we took our first breath. We are incapable of understanding His love for us. In a messed up, broken world, He alone is LOVE we can rely upon in our darkest moments.

  1. I am limitlessly, exuberantly, endlessly loved by God.

God’s love gives me purpose. He chooses to partner with His children to bring purpose from chaos in the world. We are His disciples, the light of the world. When I get up ever morning, I know that my words and actions set into motion eternal ripples of cause and effect.  Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

2. God gives me a purpose for and in every second of my life–especially in moments when I can’t see it.

God has a plan for your life. He created you with a purpose. One of the most important purposes we can fulfill is one we often overlook and take for granted: God created us to enjoy an intimate relationship with us. We enter into that relationship by believing in Jesus. The Bible tells us that if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father (God).

Having a close relationship with God is like any other relationship. We need to spend time with Him. We need to talk to Him in prayer. We need to read His love letter to us–the Bible–to help us better see and understand His profound love for us.

We are also created to glorify God in all we do and say; to praise Him; to grow in the fruits of the Spirit; to use our gifts and talents for Him, and to share what God has done for us with others.

3. I am enough because I am God’s daughter.

God’s opinion is the only opinion that matters. He created me and orchestrates every atom in the universe. No one can diminish my value. God willingly gave His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for my sins. God loved me more than the love that has ever filled the hearts of mankind. He says I am enough and I am His.

4. The most truthful things about me is that I am who God says I am: beautiful, chosen, forgiven, and free from shame.

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe,

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

I am free. I am forgiven. I am chosen. I am God’s beautiful child.

5. I am free to love even my enemies as freely as God loves me.

We find true freedom when we forgive our enemies as God forgave us. Of course, this is not actually possible. We do not possess God’s capacity for forgiveness. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love our enemies and those who spitefully use us.

This is perhaps the most difficult affirmation to claim–especially when we watch others abuse our loved ones. Forgiveness does not mean “off the hook” or forgetting about consequences. Forgiveness means to pardon or cancel a debt. That individual no longer owes you anything. They may owe a penalty to the law or an institution or someone else, but you free them from bondage to your anger.

I challenge you to begin your morning for one month with these five affirmations. Say them out loud as you look into a mirror, and use your name as you speak them. Write them on a card and carry them with you through the day. Then observe how the Spirit of God works in your life.

–Shelly