By Kristine Brown, Crosswalk.com
Heat filled my cheeks as she spoke. Her words pressed harder and harder until my heart felt trapped beneath them. What had I done to deserve such criticism? I sat in silent astonishment without a clue how to respond. I just wanted the conversation to be over.
We have all experienced times when a friend, co-worker, or relative offered harsh judgments. But there are also times when the words spoken, though hurtful at first, are exactly what we need to hear. So how do you discern between the two? How do you know if this person is giving constructive feedback or condemning your actions?
“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group” (Galatians 2:11-12 NIV).
In Paul’s instruction to the Galatian church, he tells about a time he corrected Cephas (also known as Peter.)
Paul noticed Peter acting one way around Jews and another way when he was only with the Gentiles. I can imagine how difficult it was for Paul to address this matter with Peter. After all, Peter was one of the twelve disciples. He was a bold proclaimer of the gospel before Paul became a believer. Yet Paul followed God’s instruction and tackled this difficult topic with Peter.
So how do we handle these situations when they come up? Paul’s story gives us valuable insight into these often uncomfortable moments. The following three tips will help us determine a course of action when someone we know offers opinions we don’t want to hear.
1. Listen up, and listen well.
I was stunned that day by the unexpected turn in the conversation with my friend. For that reason, I missed part of what was said. Certain phrases stood out louder than the rest. You hold on to control… let other people help… more communication. I focused on the negative and blocked out most everything else.
So often we miss the message in its entirety because we don’t hear everything. As the discussion begins, let’s determine to focus our attention. Ask questions. Create open dialogue and keep the exchange going. Above all, we must resist getting defensive. Like Peter, God uses people of like faith to teach us valuable lessons. But we could miss the opportunity if we don’t listen.
2. Consider the source.
After the exchange, let’s ask ourselves these questions. Is she coming to me with her concerns for the right reasons? Is she someone I trust to give wise counsel? If the answer to these two questions is yes, then we should allow our hearts to be open to her words.
Paul demonstrated his leadership ability and his devotion to God’s call on his life through years of commitment to ministry. No doubt he was someone Peter could trust. Peter knew Paul, and he knew the Holy Spirit guided Paul’s heart and actions. For this reason, Peter could accept Paul’s concern with confidence.
3. Be receptive and appreciative.
As co-laborers for one cause, we must remain united with other believers. Whatever action steps you decide to take or not to take, reassure her. Renew your commitment to the common goal. Let her know you appreciate her. Gratitude eases tension and builds relationships.
The bold woman who challenged me to evaluate myself and seek God’s direction took a risk. She risked hurting my feelings to bring about change that would ultimately improve our relationship. She became a trusted voice and gentle admonisher. After taking the matter to God in prayer, I resolved to work toward bettering myself as a servant and a listener.
As women, we are called to love. And let’s face it - confrontation creates discomfort! But we can find wisdom in Paul’s exchange with Peter today. Criticism can hurt if we allow ourselves to be offended, but we can grow in Christ by making the most of it. Paul and Peter worked through many obstacles in ministry, and we can too. Sometimes submitting to God’s plan means daring to listen.
Kristine Brown is a writer, dramatist, and former English teacher. She desires to support women in their spiritual lives with practical teaching for real-life struggles. Kristine devotes her time to freelance writing and her non-profit ministry, More Than Yourself, Inc. You can read more from Kristine at www.morethanyourself.com.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Nattakorn Maneerat