When I was promoting my first book, I spoke at a two-part event and had the opportunity to connect with some of the attendees after the second session. It was wonderful to meet folks, hear their hearts, and answer their questions. Well, it was wonderful, I should say, until I met one person who had specifically returned to the second session in order to criticize my choice of scripture, my use of scripture, and my speaking style—in front of the entire crowd. This man even brought me a copy of his own book, informing me that I had a lot to learn from it.
While I generally value critique from those I love—I always want to improve my craft—this was something else entirely. I left that event feeling small, ripped apart, and confused. Should I have kept my mouth shut? Should I have avoided this event altogether? Should I have never walked on that stage?
The next week, I visited with a mentor in order to process the best way to respond to this experience. She said this: “There is a big difference between going under the knife of a surgeon you trust, and being stabbed in the alley by a stranger. It sounds like you were stabbed, but you’re blaming yourself for even being in the alley in the first place. This was not your fault. This was a stab wound.”
While the metaphor is graphic, the sentiment is helpful. There’s a stark difference between helpful feedback from someone who is invested in you, and harmful critique from the random person who just loves to voice their opinions.
Sadly, women so often internalize any and all critique as “proof” that we are inadequate imposters. But the truth is—if God has called you to serve him in a public arena of any kind, the opinions of others will undoubtedly come your way. But not all of those opinions deserve your time or energy.
Whatever field you are in, it’s essential to learn how to discern criticism. What is worth humbly heeding and what deserves to be chucked straight into the garbage bin?
When navigating criticism, here are three questions we can ask:
1. Has this person earned the relational credit or role to speak into my life? Ezekiel the prophet, when preparing to drop some pretty intense God-words on Israel, first laid on his left side for over a year, then on his right side for forty days. Ezekiel humbled himself before the Lord and bore his people’s punishment. In doing so, he proved his right to be their prophet. And most importantly, Ezekiel did this before he ever opened his mouth to the Israelites. Though that’s an extreme example, ask yourself if this critic has actually proven to be a prophetic voice in your life? Have they earned the relational credit or the honor? Have they invested in your craft and your growth in God? If so, then this is perhaps a voice worth hearing. If not, don’t even give a sliver of your heart to it.
2. Is this person critiquing me with an attitude of respect? After hearing my critic’s comments that night, I initially wondered if God was trying to speak to me through him. Soon, though, I began to ask myself something else—is this how God typically speaks to his daughters? With condemnation and shame? No! God speaks dignity over his daughters. He moves with compassion and love. Yes, the Spirit convicts us of sin. Yes, God wants us to grow. But it is God’s kindness, after all, that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Criticism that comes from a place of condemnation is not from God. Let that go. Allow God to remove the shards of condemning critique and replace them with a crown of beauty and a robe of dignity.
3. Is this a meaningful critique of my actual work? I have a good friend who wrote a beautiful book about spiritual disciplines. An online reviewer criticized her for neglecting to add recipes to it. But she wasn’t writing a cookbook! In the same way that we don’t critique movies for not being songs and we don’t criticize singers for not having home improvement shows, we must use common sense when receiving (and giving) critique. Is this a wise word about my actual job performance? Or is this person holding me to an unfair set of standards based on another outcome or an entirely different field? If it’s not related to your calling or your purposes, it’s best to ignore that type of critique. However, if it’s wisdom from an expert in your field, it’s worth taking the time to consider.
I still have my critic’s book in my possession. One day I might take it out of my cabinet and laugh about it. Or I might actually read it and learn something. Or I might have a fun bonfire. Either way, I know that there is a tribe of people in my corner helping me grow and mature—their voices are worth hearing.
Aubrey is the author of The Louder Song (2019) and Overcomer (2015), and is a regular contributor to Propel Women. Aubrey and her husband are church planters in the Chicago area. She travels around the country to speak and preach, and is earning her masters degree in Evangelism and Leadership with the Propel Cohort at Wheaton College. You can connect with Aubrey at www.aubreysampson.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @aubsamp.