Today, out of the blue, I received a harsh criticism from someone. It was like being slugged in the gut when I wasn’t looking. Probably you know the feeling. Many people I talk to get discouraged if not depressed when they’re criticized. Most of my life that’s how I reacted too.
No Condemnation in Christ
I thank God that over time I’ve learned that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). Instead of being feeling bad, being defensive, or counterattacking I’ve learned the “Jesus Jujitsu” of praying for those who persecute me and blessing those who curses me as God helped me to do for this person (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14). Of course, sometimes when I’m judged poorly by someone I slip into old patterns and get discouraged or respond poorly, but I know Jesus’ way of love and it’s much better!
But you can’t bless someone who criticizes you directly. Don’t think you can just grit your teeth and grind out a kind word for someone who has been mean. Trying harder doesn’t work to change character. The only way to consistently and genuinely offer love to someone who offends you is to take the indirect route of relying on God to help you make an inward change.
Get Free of Self-Criticism
When criticism sends us into guilt and shame it’s a sign that we have an internal critic that we’re trying to please. This may be the judgments of an angry or hard-to-please parent that you internalized as a child. Or maybe you’ve learned to be hard on yourself for some other reason. The bottom line is that if you’re self-critical then you’re a sitting duck that will fall down when hit by someone who is unhappy with you.
I’ve learned to hold Jesus’ hand in daily life and he, along with trusted friends in the body of Christ, have been helping me not to be self-critical, but to live by the Spirit of grace. That’s the key! You want to get into the position in which moment-by-moment you’re so full of an appreciation of God’s love that you’re overflowing with it. Then you will not be depressed by criticism. Not only this, but grace for your enemy (or it may be a friend who acted like an enemy) can spill out of you: He’s reacting out of his own hurt… Father, I forgive him and I pray that you’d comfort him and help him.
When you experience the reality that there is no condemnation in Christ — no shame, only mercy — then you can learn from criticism. Perhaps you need to apologize or make amends. Or you might look at the situation as a gauge to monitor how well you were plugged into God’s love when the criticism came.
Standing in the Kingdom of the Heavens with Jesus
When I told Kristi about the gut punch I received she listened to me, hugged me, and prayed for me. And together we prayed that God would bless this person. Then she shared with me these words from Dallas Willard:
When we enter the life of friendship with Jesus who is now at work in our universe, we stand in a new reality where condemnation is simply irrelevant. There is before God, Paul says, “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
And as for the condemnation we may receive from others, I endeavor not to receive it, to just ignore it or drop it. I have learned to look at it only while simultaneously holding in full view the fact that Jesus, so far from condemning me, died for me and is right now intervening on my behalf in the heavens. This helps me stay out of counter condemnation with its pain and anger.
“Who is condemning me,” I ask, “when set beside that One who does not condemn me?” I think I shall not be depressed about this condemnation of me, then, especially since I know that “nothing can separate me from the eternal love of Christ” (Rom 8:33-35). And in this context it seems only intelligent just to be done with the whole condemning game. (Divine Conspiracy, page 227)
May you enjoy the friendship of our Lord and Savior. There’s no shame there — only mercy.