Criticism: Drop or Ignore?
What do you do with stinging criticism? When it rings in your ears? Often I have held on to it and gone over it. I have dwelt on what was said, why it was unfair or what that person didn’t understand (the past) and what I’d like to say in response but never will, what I probably will say, or how I’ll withdraw (the future). All this past and future thinking about it distracts me from practicing the present presence of God in all of life. It makes me miserable.
So I recently revisited Dallas Willard’s recommendation to drop it or ignore condemnation/criticism (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 226). Earlier I’d rejected his idea: What if there was something important I needed to know? To confess? This time I realized that the purpose for dropping or ignoring condemnation from others is to keep us out of counter-condemnation—planning what to say, thinking about how wrong the person was, and maybe demeaning and condemning the person. To drop or ignore the condemnation frees us from this preoccupation.
I decided to do this. I figured that God would bring to my mind in God’s gentle, careful way the true parts of the criticism I needed to hear (and have the capacity to hear) in much different words and from a different source.
But how? Willard recommends:
“Who is this one 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 have done with the whole condemning game.
So here’s what I did. First, I made a “cue sheet” to help me. On one side of the paper is printed Romans 8:31-39 in large type. On the other side I printed out the entire Willard quote in large type. Then I trimmed it to the smallest possible size and took it hiking with me, rehearsing it to drown out the criticism ringing in my ears. Now I keep it by my bed, at my desk, and in my purse, so I have it whenever my mind drifts back to the criticism (see also “Meditating on the Run”). God also seemed to mysteriously plant a certain worship song in my mind to drown out thoughts about the condemnation.
This is helping me so much. I’m focused on God’s goodness and feel joyful. Feelings of resentment toward the person who spoke the criticism are not building up in me. On the other hand, as I was reading comments on a Scripture passage I was doing lectio divina on a few days later, several insights came to me about what needs to change within me. But it didn’t come at me in harshness as the criticism/condemnation did. I felt enlightened. God is helping me along this path.
So if you’re in a similar situation, you might consider creating a cue sheet and doing the same. Write out Romans 8:31-39 on one side of the paper or card, turn it over and write the quote on the other side. Read the quotation slowly and digest the words that stand out to you. Willard is so good at helping us. It begins with:
When we enter the life of friendship with the Jesus who is now at work in our universe, we stand in a new reality where condemnation is simply irrelevant.
The condemnation is irrelevant because dropping or ignoring it creates space for whatever correction we need to learn which comes from God’s firm but gentle nudge. It frees us to fully embrace our life of friendship with God.