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

 

 

 

20 Ways to Care for a Caregiver

 

By Shelly Beach

Most of my childhood, I hung out with people who were caregivers.

My mom took care of her mother with dementia, her mother-in-law who came to live with us, Mom’s best friend who died of cancer, and her sister who was bedridden with arthritis. In addition to these loved ones, Mom and Dad cared for widows and elderly people in our community, driving them to appointments and church, tending to their home maintenance and yard chores, and “calling on them” regularly with special treats.

When missionaries came home from caring for people in foreign lands, my mom often took the wives shopping and indulged them with gifts of beautiful lingerie. When I asked her why, she told me that people who served others needed to be treated with gifts they would hesitate to buy for themselves.

What did this teach me?

It’s our privilege and responsibility to care for others.
Scripture tells us to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Eph 6:2). Bearing burdens means we must first know and care about one another enough to recognize each others’ burdens and to know how best to “bear” them with those we love.

Caring for others is one way of showing our love for God.
“God…will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Heb 6:10). I’m not loving God if I’m not loving His people in word, attitude, and action.

Caregiving should be our natural, heartfelt response to others.

All people deserve dignity and respect.

love as we desire to be loved.

Caregivers often spend money on themselves last.

They frequently defer their desires for the sake of their loved ones. If you know a caregiver—and you do—take a minute to think about how you could make their life a bit easier and brighten their day.

  1. Pay someone to help with yard work
  2. Make sure their car receives regular maintenance
  3. Bless them with gift cards for groceries and gas
  4. Offer respite care to and spend time with their loved one
  5. Offer your hot tub, pool, cabin, or basement apartment as respite space
  6. Read with their loved one once a week so they can get a break
  7. Spoil them with a manicure, pedicure, or spa day
  8. Take them out for lunch
  9. Call them regularly and let them talk
  10. Make sure they are included in social activities and make sure their loved one is taken care of
  11. Offer to pay for grocery delivery
  12. Ask them what support looks like to them and how you can help
  13. Learn about their loved one’s illness and how to interact meaningfully with them
  14. Remember their birthday, anniversary, and holiday—especially if their loved one cannot
  15. Learn how to advocate for your caregiver friend and their loved one
  16. Listen with compassion and empathy and without the need to provide easy answers
  17. Bring groceries or pre-made meals
  18. Help create a circle of support
  19. Pray for your friend and their loved one
  20. Be faithful in love and persistent in kindness

Most importantly, be a faithful friend who advocates for YOUR friend’s health and welfare. Encourage them to take care of themselves and make healthy choices. This will mean taking time for much-needed respite. It will also mean encouraging them through moments of false guilt and sitting with them as they grieve seemingly endless losses.

Don’t forget that the most important thing you have to offer is you.

 

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.

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

The Isolation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

One of the most frustrating aspects of living with trauma and PTSD is isolation.

It can be virtually impossible to explain how you feel or why you feel the way you do to other people. This is often a source of shame and embarrassment. People with PTSD often find themselves isolating. They may also give partial explanations to friends and loved ones because they know that the reality that they live will sound senseless to those who haven’t experienced it. Friends and family cannot understand how trauma alters the physical function of the brain because they have not experienced it.

People make judgments based on their experience.

We see a behavior that seems “odd,” and instead of wondering why or seeking out the story behind the behavior, we make assessments and draw conclusions. Trauma and PTSD are the why beneath many behaviors that are easy to judge: obsessive-compulsive disorders, self-abuse, anxiety and depression, addictions, self-harm and self-hatred, eating disorders, and many other negative coping mechanisms.

PTSD and social anxiety disorder (SAD) often occur together. 

A diagnosis of SAD requires frequent and unending fear of social situations or situations where you are expected to perform in some way. (My symptoms peaked after a brain surgery and neurological episode that also affected my brain function.) You may also feel fearful about appearing anxious or acting in a way that will cause embarrassment or humiliation. You avoid situations that cause fear.

This was my experience, and friends interpreted my behavior as rejection. I was chastised, spiritually scolded, judged, and ultimately I decided that my friends were unable to offer the support I needed.

In retrospect, I can see that my behavior looked like rejection. But fear, not rejection drove my behavior, and at that time I could not find effective therapy to help with my symptoms.

People with PTSD feel isolated because others can’t understand what they have never experienced.

I incurred my greatest traumas caring for others. I would never change that. However, I was unprepared for the trauma symptoms that eventually followed. Eventually, I found compassionate friends who understood. They came alongside me without judgment and listened. They asked what support looked like. They learned about PTSD and trauma. They let me cry and grieve. They did not give easy answers but still spoke the truth.

Eventually I found effective treatment through the Instinctual Trauma Response Method, a treatment approach that effectively rewires the disconnection that occurs between the right and left hemispheres of the brain during a traumatic event. The ITR Method gives the trauma story a beginning, middle, and an ending and recodes the event in a way that allows it to be filed in the brain as a completed memory–in the past. More information about this treatment is available at HelpforTrauma.com.

The cognitive distortions that accompany trauma and PTSD also contribute to isolation.

People who live with the symptoms of PTSD withdraw because their brain is controlled by fear caused by adrenaline and cortisol released during traumatic events. Their brains become “stuck” in a fear response. Unfortunately, friends and loved ones often believe that logic and rationality will provide a solution to fear, when in actuality, the brain needs to be recoded.

Cognitive distortions include filtering out the positive and magnifying the negative, black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing catastrophizing (disaster will strike at any time), blaming (other people are responsible for our problems), “shoulds” (rules about how others and we should act), emotional reasoning, and other reasoning fallacies. This makes it difficult for people with PTSD to make well-reasoned decisions and to trust people.

People with PTSD need medical assistance to first address the physical damage in the brain. PTSD is a physiological problem that causes mental health symptoms. Addressing the spiritual aspects of symptoms and behaviors should come after an individual receives effective trauma treatment that restores the ability to make reasoned choices, control emotions, and see one’s self from a healthy perspective. Just as a diabetic needs appropriate medical treatment for the pancreas, the individual with PTSD needs appropriate medical treatment for the brain. Both should come accompanied by prayer and reliance upon God, our Ultimate Healer.

If you know someone who lives with PTSD and trauma, they also struggle with feelings of isolation. They need compassionate friends who are willing to listen and learn about trauma and PTSD. More than anything, they need the relentless love of Jesus, who never leaves us or forsakes us.