Constructive criticism. Mentorship. Well-meaning help. We’ve all faced some sort of criticism in our lives, regardless of the name it wears. Many times, we’ve asked for it. Sometimes, as in the case of writers, we accept it as part of the job. But how do you distinguish the good type of criticism–the kind meant to help us grow and change for the better–from the bad type, meant to tear us down?
I’ll share a story about something that happened to me recently. I work from home, and I schedule my writing around my children’s day. Sometimes, like this week, it means I get long stretches of time to write. Other times, it means that I’m stealing a half-hour here and there during the day and staying up late into the night after they’ve gone to bed. I have responsibilities to my publishers, but I have a greater responsibility to my family, and that’s something of which I’m very aware. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with making it work. There are days when it’s difficult and frustrating, and days where I feel like I’m not doing either thing particularly well.
So when someone I respected made an offhand comment telling me I needed to put my family first, after I’d just done a week of twenty-hour days, it hurt. It made me question everything I was doing. Was God trying to give me a wake-up call? Was I really being selfish and making my kids suffer? I went to bed wondering if I should finish out my contracts and not write anymore after that.
Some prayer and a discussion with my husband later, I realized that this was simply one person’s well-meaning opinion, and it had value. But it wasn’t a sign from God. I was reminded of this list going around the web:
I don’t believe that when God wants us to make a change, he does it through shame and condemnation. In my life, the leading of the Holy Spirit is far more gentle. It may convict and it may challenge, but it doesn’t crush. In this case, it wasn’t the advice that was bad, it was that I allowed it to steer me off course. I believe that God has given me the opportunity right now to write and to speak to people’s hearts in a way that I couldn’t do otherwise. If I prize other people’s opinions over what I feel I’m being called to do, I’m allowing that well-meaning advice to become destructive.
So I encourage you when facing criticism, especially that which diverts you from the course you feel God is leading you, to test it through prayer and reflection. Is it truly a message from God? Or is it simply well-meaning advice that arrives with bad timing?