Why Criticism Is So Unhealthy

labelsThere's an ad campaign going around right now where a person talks about having satellite television. Then, they introduce an 'alternate universe' version of themselves who has a deficiency and this version of themselves has cable. The tag line is "Don't be like this me. Get satellite TV."

I feel like there are some different versions of myself.

'Normal me' is a nice guy. You'd like him. He's friendly and engaging - plenty of witty and humorous remarks. Most people like normal me. I like normal me.

But there's another guy that I hope you don't meet. It's 'On The Highway During Rush Hour' me.

He can be an unbelievable jerk. He tells everyone else all the stuff they're doing wrong. If you're driving too fast or too slow, he's going to talk about that. If you change lanes too often, or if you stay in the left lane without changing, be prepared to have your intelligence questioned.

'Rush Hour' me thinks he is better than everyone else, but all he accomplishes is causing frustration to anyone who is in his own car with him.

Don't be like 'Rush Hour' me.

In fact, let's look at what makes 'Rush Hour' me such a problem: he's always criticizing people.

Criticism is a form of arrogance. It comes from a perspective that I am smarter than other people and know what they should be doing rather than what they are actually, currently doing.

Here's the worst part about 'Rush Hour' me: sometimes he shows up in places other than the car during crazy traffic.

He can show up in my marriage, in my parenting, in my workplace, and pretty much any other places.

When I'm in this mode, I'm all about telling other people what they should think, say, and do.

Here's the bottom line when it comes to this behaviour: in Philippians 2:3, Paul writes, "Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves."

Criticism happens when I value 'being right' more than I value other people.

When I look at Jesus, I see a human who literally had all the answers. He had every right to tell people how we get it wrong, but most of the time, he talks about the better ways to live life rather than pushing our noses in the ways we were getting it wrong.

His whole Sermon on the Mount was reframing the way to have a fuller life, and he was pointing to areas where we were getting it wrong (hate your enemy, divorce any woman with little effort or cause, lusting and hating are okay if you don't act on it), but he didn't insult the intelligence or personhood of his listeners.

In fact, the only people that got to hear Jesus being critical were the religious leaders, who spent their time criticising others. It's almost like Jesus gave them exactly what they were giving to others...treating them the way they were treating others - which is a lesson Jesus repeatedly taught - you get what you give (see Luke 6:30).

Jesus was God. He was qualified to be 'where the buck stops' in this process. But you and I are not qualified to do this. We're not very good at knowing what is justice, versus what is revenge or retribution.

When Paul tells us to view others as better than ourselves, he's asking us to trust that God is going to set all the wrongs to right.

He's asking us to leave space for people to hear what God is saying to them. Or to say that another way:  When you criticize people, you get in the way of the Holy Spirit working in their life.

If you see people heading for disaster, this doesn't mean you should say nothing, but criticism won't help them or you. Think about your natural reaction to criticism. Now ask why others should react to criticism differently? Because you're smarter? Takes us back to that arrogance problem, right?

Accountability is a healthier way to help others. We should be a champion for people in our life, not an accuser.

The term 'The Satan' literally means 'The Accuser'. God knows we don't need more satans in our lives.

When you criticize, you are literally being 'The Satan' to another person.

I hope that 'Rush Hour' me is reading this article right now. If he is, I want to say this: Love is a better way. You can't improve the world through criticism, but you can improve it through love.

What To Do When You're Angry At God

resentfulOne of the things that I love about Jesus is that he's a realist. Case in point: one of Jesus' disciples records him saying "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." (John 16:33)

He doesn't mince words by saying 'you may have trouble' or 'bad things could happen'. He gives us a guarantee. It's certainly not one of the promises we talk about claiming when we're in church.

But Jesus knew that sometimes life will suck.

Illness can strike, a loved one can die, we can lose a job or a house or our transportation.

So the question is not 'will something bad happen', or even 'what/when/how bad things will happen', for we cannot control those things, but rather 'how will we respond when bad things happen'?

The most important thing we can do in these situations is to respond by being honest with God.

When I am dealing with difficult emotions or frustration with God, I look to the Psalms.

The author of Psalm 44 writes "Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever."

David opens Psalm 55 with "Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles."

In Psalm 3, David prays "Arise, O LORD! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked!"

Imagine if I got up on stage at my church, asked everyone to bow their heads for prayer and then started saying any of those things. People would be shocked. Offended.

Yet nothing we say comes as a surprise to God. When we are honest with God about how we feel, it is something he already knows.

David was called a man after God's own heart despite his failings because he invited God into his emotions.

We read the prayer to destroy his enemies and it makes us uncomfortable, because the violent texts do not fit well with our concepts of the loving Father.

Yet in this case, we don't have to assume that God endorses David's prayer. He's simply allowing David to express his rage in the situation he faces. David trusts God with his real feelings, knowing that God loves him in the midst of his despair and fear and anger.

Anne Lamott in Help, Thanks, Wow says that “you might shout at the top of your lungs or whisper into your sleeve, "I hate you, God." That is a prayer...because it is real, it is truth, and maybe it is the first sincere thought you've had in months.”

When I realized that God isn't afraid of or upset by my anger or hurt or fear, but that instead he wanted to be invited into those places within me to bring healing, I began to open up more with my emotions to God.

I began to start my prays with 'God, I feel ________ today'.

Sometimes it was optimistic. Sometimes it was frustrated. Sometimes it was scared.

The next line was to welcome God into those emotions. Until I could be honest with God about those emotions, I couldn't be honest with myself about how I was feeling.

Telling God how you feel doesn't guarantee that he will 'fix' the situation immediately. But it does create space for him to provide healing and comfort that hits our soul like air in our lungs after being underwater for too long.

As William Nicholson wrote in Shadowlands, "[prayer] does not change God - it changes me"

When you are angry at God, follow the example he provides to us in the Psalms:

  1. Share those feelings with God.
  2. Invite God to meet you in those feelings.
  3. Allow God to work in you even while you are in the midst of your situation. It's not about what's happening to you, it's about what's happening in you.

God's not looking for men and women who can put on the nicest face on a Sunday at church. He's looking for the ones courageous enough to take off the mask and be themselves, trusting that God's love is bigger than our hurts and our concerns for appearance.