This week two parishioners gave me a great gift: they lovingly criticized me. While that doesn’t sound like much of a gift, it truly is. I confess I don’t like criticism. I don’t like being told that I am wrong or mistaken or hurtful or deficient in some way. It doesn’t feel good to be told that. My first reaction when someone criticizes me is to protest that they are wrong. (Now, they may in fact be wrong, but that should only be determined after careful reflection, not as an initial, emotional response.) But what I usually discover, when I take the time to speak calmly and ask questions of the person delivering the news, is that there is something to what they have to say. There is some learning or information that I have overlooked, that this criticism is trying to show me.
Criticism, when done lovingly (in order to correct and not to punish), is like a little mirror that someone hands to us. It is a way of seeing ourselves as others see us, thereby learning about ourselves. It is a gift because it is a tool. It is a way of teaching us. The famous German writer J.W. von Goethe once said, “By seeking and blundering we learn.” We grow from our mistakes, but only if we know that we have made a mistake. Sometimes it takes a brave and loving soul to tell us this. They become our teachers. We need to welcome and bless those who lovingly criticize us.
One of Jesus’ greatest lines is, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near.” Jesus is calling us to change our ways, in other words, he is lovingly criticizing us. But as our teacher he is doing this as an act of compassion, knowing that if we embrace what he says, our lives will be better.
All this does not mean I jump for joy when someone criticizes me, but when I step back I can see it for the gift it is. I am grateful when people have the courage to (lovingly) point out my shortcomings and give me an opportunity to grow. When done in the right spirit, our critics are our teachers.
You are very dear to me and to God in Christ.