This week I’ve been thinking a lot about criticism and advice. New friends I’ve made and certain family members have told me how they are being criticised for things, or are giving advice to others on how to live. I give advice all the time on my blog and I’ve been criticized here and in the past, all throughout my childhood, teen years, and young adult life. Now, before I go on, let me just say that not all advice or criticism is bad. If it were, I’d be out of a job (lol) and so would every other blogger and nonfiction writer in the world. But there are things we need to consider when receiving criticism or advice, and when giving criticism or advice, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
There are two types of criticism: opinion criticism and constructive criticism. What’s the difference?
Opinion Criticism: “You are a terrible mother.”
Constructive Criticism: “I think you’re trying really hard to be a great mom, but maybe it would be better if you stopped screaming at your kids.”
Opinion criticism is telling someone they are horrible at something or that we dislike something (a piece of art, a book, a song, etc.) but we don’t give the person a reason, a specific example, or how that person can improve. Basically, it is just our opinion, but it can greatly affect that person’s mind and self-esteem.
Constructive criticism is when we tell someone how they can improve in an area like being a better wife, mom, artist, business person, etc. with specific examples, especially from our own lives or God’s Word.
We’re all going to be criticized in life no matter what our career or marital state. People love to give their opinion whether we asked for it or not and it’s something we have to learn how to handle in a healthy way.
So, how can we handle criticism without letting it ruin our uniqueness and self-esteem?
- Ask, “What kind of criticism is it?” If the criticism we receive is opinion-based and not constructive, dismiss it completely. Don’t dwell on it, don’t consider it, don’t believe it, just give it to God and let it go. There is nothing helpful about opinion-based criticism and nothing we can learn from it. Just don’t hold it against the person who gave it because God commands us to show mercy. This can be hard because criticism really hurts, but thankfully we have a God who is willing to help us forgive others and let go of offenses.
- Who is it coming from? If the criticism is constructive, we need to look at the source. Personally, I don’t listen to criticism when it comes from people who know nothing (or very little) about the subject. For example, when I was a kid my parents went to dinner with a couple. The woman had visited England once, on vacation. My dad had lived in England for several years and his mom is British. But the woman argued with my dad about what England was like and how the people acted. If she had criticized him at that point, he could easily ignore it, even if it was constructive because he clearly knows more about England than she does. So, if we receive constructive criticism, we need to ask ourselves if that person actually knows what he or she is talking about.
There are people who have tried to criticize my writing, but they themselves don’t write. I would take constructive criticism from another writer, but not from someone who knows nothing about writing. In the case of my blog (if you are a blogger too you probably get this), I would prefer that people don’t judge what I write if they don’t know me personally. I write from my own life and experiences, as do almost all bloggers, and for people to judge me when they don’t know me is kind of silly. Nor would I criticize other bloggers when they talk about their own life experiences because I don’t know them personally.
For example, I’ve read blogs written by parents and I could say what they’re doing is right or wrong, but because I’m not a parent yet, I don’t say anything. I just read and learn and allow myself to grow from what I read. I also don’t expect people to take criticism from me on how to be a better parent when I don’t have any kids right now, or any other area where I don’t have knowledge and experience. I know what I’ve observed, but I don’t really know what it’s like unless I go through it.
- Take it to God. This is the last and most important step in how to handle criticism. Once we’ve received it and decided if it’s even worth thinking about, take it to God. First, only He can change us. In the past, my mom has pointed out areas of selfishness in my life. I am very close to my mom and I knew she was coming from a place of love, but it really hurt when she said it because it meant I had to face the fact that I wasn’t perfect and I couldn’t pretend to be. So, I would take her words to the Lord and He would tell me that she was right. Then I would humble myself before Him and ask Him to change me. Even if it’s in an area where it might not be personal, we should still take it to God. God can make us better writers, singers, dancers, artists, business people, etc. if we will keep an open mind and heart for Him.
The second part of this, however, is what we should consider if we want to criticize others. Here are some things we need to ask ourselves before we criticize anyone.
- Motive. Check our motives. Do we want to criticize the person because he or she has angered us, or do we actually want to help that person improve his or her life? Are we planning on using constructive criticism, or are we just going to give our opinion? If we’re just going to give our opinion, we need to keep it to ourselves. Only constructive criticism is helpful to others.
- Relationship. What is our relationship with that person? I can handle criticism from four people in my life: God, my mom, my dad, and my husband. Anyone else who criticizes me is something I highly suspect and I rarely ever listen to them unless he or she has a lot more knowledge and experience in that area. For example, if Joyce Meyer were to constructively criticize my nonfiction books, I would listen because she is a godly woman and a published writer. If J.K. Rowling wanted to constructively criticize my young adult fantasy novels, I would listen to her because she is successful in that same field. But if we barely know the person, I would highly caution us not to say anything at all to them unless we feel #3 from this list.
- God’s leading. Is this criticism something God is leading us to say or are we doing it on our own? If the criticism we want to share, even if it is constructive and possibly helpful, isn’t coming from a prompting by the Holy Spirit, I strongly warn us against saying anything. It almost always backfires when it isn’t from God. But, if God tells us to say something to someone, we have to do it regardless of our relationship with the person. Even if the person gets upset, no word from God ever comes back void (Isaiah 55:11).
So, that is how we can safely handle and give criticism in life. But what about advice?
Advice and criticism are not the same things, I want to be clear on that up front. When someone gives us advice, or when we give someone else advice, it isn’t necessarily a criticism of something he or she is doing wrong.
For example, I think my mom is a godly wife and mother. Is she perfect? No, because none of us are. But if I offer her advice on a certain area of her life, that doesn’t mean I’m criticizing her as a wife, mother, or anything else. It simply means that I see something that maybe she can’t because she’s too close to a situation and I can point it out in an attempt to help her.
However, advice can be just as damaging as criticism if not taken or given in the right way.
How can we take advice in a healthy way that won’t damage our self-esteem or relationships?
- Who is the source? The first thing we need to ask ourselves is who is the source of the advice? Do we know the person? Are they knowledgeable on the subject? Can we trust their motives?
Much like criticism, I will gladly take advice from my parents or my husband. However, if anyone else gives me advice, I question it. I never take it at face-value and I certainly don’t take it to heart without moving on to the next few steps I’m going to discuss. But, if the person knows what he or she is talking about – for example, a woman who has been successfully married for 20+ years can certainly give me advice on my own marriage, I will definitely take it to step #2. But, someone who has been married less than I have would be open to suspect. Just like I don’t expect you guys to trust everything I say. I don’t want you to just accept my opinion. I want you to go to step #2 with everything I say or write, and anything everyone else says or writes.
- Take it to God. Wherever the advice comes from, we should always take it to God. Does He confirm what that person is saying? Does His Word confirm it? If not, don’t listen to it.
When people give me advice, in my quiet time I always go to the Lord and ask Him if this advice is from Him, from them, or from the enemy. If it isn’t from Him, I let go of the advice and keep doing what I was doing.
I want you guys to do that with my blog and with everyone else you hear or read. When I give you advice, take it to the Lord. If He agrees, or if His Word agrees (you should always study it for yourself anyway) then you can listen to me. If not, no worries! Always listen to the Lord before anyone else.
- Guard our heart and mind. Finally, we need to be very careful what we do with the advice after it has been given. If we’ve taken it to the Lord and feel like it doesn’t apply to us, don’t then dwell on it, start to feel bad about it, and allow it to damage our self-esteem. I know I’ve had people tell me how to live my life that I knew wasn’t from God and even though I knew it wasn’t from God, I would keep thinking about it, question myself, wonder if I was doing the right thing, and end up in self-doubt and discouragement. We have to learn how to let go of bad (even if it is well-meant) advice and trust God. If, however, the advice is good and the Lord tells us that we should listen to it, then we need to take action (and thank the person).
The last thing I want to talk about is what we need to consider before we give someone else advice.
- Motive. What are our motives for giving someone advice? Is it just because we do something a certain way and we think everyone should do it that way? Or maybe we’ve dealt with the same situation they are facing in the past and successfully handled it and just want to help them do the same. Are the motives selfish or do we truly want to help the person?
- Knowledge. How much knowledge do we honestly have on the subject? I can’t tell someone how to be a pastor or a teacher or anything like that because I have no knowledge on the subject. And when I give you guys advice on marriage, I realize I haven’t been married long. However, I’ve learned a lot from God’s Word and from married couples who have been married 20+ years and I just share their wisdom and experience. So, while I may not have a lot of personal knowledge on marriage, I know a lot of God’s Word and from other married people, and I like to tell you guys our own struggles in marriage so that you don’t feel alone if you end up facing the same, or similar, struggles.
- Relationship. Do we have a personal relationship with the person or have we just met them? Is there trust and intimacy in the relationship? For example, I have a lot of family members, but very few with which I’m actually close. We all have that in our families. There are people who we really connected with and others we just barely know, even if we’ve known them our whole lives. If we don’t have a close relationship with the person to whom we want to give advice, I strongly suggest we really think about giving them advice or not and move to #4 in this list.
- God’s leading. If we feel in our spirits that God is leading us to give someone advice, do it! It doesn’t matter how well we know him or her. If God has told us to do something, we need to be obedient. Even if we do have a personal relationship with the person, we should always ask God first if we should give advice or not. And that’s the main point we need to consider before giving advice to someone else. Does God want us to speak, and if so, what does He want us to say?
I know this is all easier said than done, but I also know that none of us will ever escape criticism and advice in life – giving it or receiving it. But we can learn how to handle it in a healthy way and when to give it or keep it to ourselves.
I hope this helps you guys as it is helping me as I learn more and more from the Lord God!
I love you guys! Have an awesome weekend!