Costly Criticism

For the past 10 years, our family’s striving and vision has been for an open-home policy. It’s not for everyone, but it works for us (at least for the time being). We encourage the kids to bring their friends home, and we thrive when people know they can just show up at our door without calling beforehand. I know it sounds like a nightmare for some of you! But, it’s the kind of house I always dreamed of having.

That said, this kind of living does come with a price: I don’t always get to choose who comes through that door.

Not everyone who walks into our house automatically loves the children running around or the crazy wallpaper I’ve picked out or the fact that there will probably be a toy or two (or 12) on the floor and dishes not yet washed. Most of our friends overlook those things, especially when they’ve decided to drop by unexpectedly. But there are those who walk into our house and bring their critical spirit. Because we’ve opened our house, we’ve opened our hearts and lives, and are honest with those who come in. We don’t fake, so our messes are sometimes all out there and it’s not often easy. It means that every once in a while we have to deal with criticism, sometimes said in love and sometimes said in the spirit of someone wanting to get something off their chest.

When a person comes in with that critical eye, I feel myself immediately closing up. My heart starts getting tense and I hunker down. Trust I had with that person chips away a little bit. It creates a gap in our relationship. I am not as open and loud as I normally am. I am painfully aware of every peep that comes out of my children’s mouths. I cannot fully be myself.

It’s the same when I’m critical towards someone else. I can judge someone just on how they look and miss out on a beautiful friendship. Or the closer I am with people, the more critical I can become of that person simply because I know more. We start to become good friends and I learn how they live and their circumstances. I start to criticize because maybe I would do it differently or respond “better”. It begins to push a wedge in between the friendship. Proverbs says that bitterness rots the bones and that being critical of someone is just the beginning of bitterness. I do myself harm and my friendship harm.

In turn, gossip between two people is another form of criticism. It’s me criticizing my friend or acquaintance to you. Both you and I are now tainted with the negative idea that I’ve formed about this person. Whenever you look at them, you’ll think about the criticism I’ve shared. You cannot have a thriving, open relationships when your heart associates these critical words towards them.

Sometimes I sit and reflect on how a relationship will be in heaven, without sin. Right now our relationships suffer with expectations and struggles, needs, and criticism. One day, they’ll be full of openness and love and without wedges! They’ll be free! I cannot wait! Yet, we can begin this kind of relationship already here on earth. We can start showing the world a love and friendship free from criticism that kills. Criticism does, in fact, kill. It kills whatever relationship you have. It slowly kills you and an otherwise grace-filled heart.

Have you ever had a conversation or a relationship with someone who knows you and loves you despite all the sin and ugliness you’ve shown them? Have you ever had someone enter your home who really sees you yet does not look down on you? Not judge you? What is the impact that love has had on you?

My husband is one of the most unassuming and uncritical people I know. It’s a beautiful combination for me to observe because he is while he is wise and discerning, he does not try to assume things about others or judge them for their choices. One thing he said to me many times early in our marriage was to assume the best of others. (You can see that he had a critical wife!) Although we cannot just walk in ignorance of others, when we are faced with a tough situation where we are assuming others’ motives we can choose to assume the best unless proven otherwise. It can get rid of a lot of heartache and expectations, especially between friends who probably truly didn’t mean whatever motive you’re applying to their heart.

It’s a great place to start, but the only true way to break the tide of criticism in us is a deeper understanding of who we are and who God is. I cannot go around judging others when I am aware of the insane amount of grace that has been shown to me and the depth of forgiveness I have been given. I did nothing to deserve God’s love, yet He chose me. In fact, I was running away from God! The Bible says I was an enemy of God until He came and brought me life! How can I then go and decide that I am anything good apart from Him?! To judge others and criticize them is to say that I know better, that I somehow have more worth or understanding than that person.

Those kind people who love us and come into our house without that critical eye understand who they were before Christ. They remember well where they came from and who brought them out of their sin. It is on the forefront of their mind that we are created to bring Him honor and glory and not tear down His kingdom by our words and thoughts. Those people know the secret of loving others well. We can love because He first loved us.

Let us be a people who humbly receive criticism, who hardly give it out, and who pour out love on all those around us!