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Consider the Words that Shape You

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Last week the little girl I nanny told me a story about something a girl in her class had said. “She asked me if I had told my mommy yet that nobody at school liked me.” I felt fire in my heart as I looked into her pretty blue eyes holding back tears. I wanted to scream! How could someone say that, in KINDERGARTEN?! After a few days Kate told us that her and the little girl were friends again.

Together her mom and I tried to explain that while forgiveness is important, you don’t have to trust everyone. That is a tricky thing to teach a kid. And as I spoke with caution I wondered if I should even try. But something hit me in that moment: I am part of her inner circle, and I need to protect her identity.

There is an interesting and dangerous balance between allowing our self to be abused by hurtful words, and being un-teachable. Both lead to being susceptible to lies about our identity. But how do we differentiate? It would be easy to surround ourselves only with people who like us and miss the opportunity to have corrective criticism; but at the same time we don’t need to subject ourselves to verbal abuse. As children of God we need to consider the words that shape our view of ourselves and I think the following questions can help us do that.

Is this criticism?

Sometimes our pride can assume the defense position as soon as criticism comes our way. Often times, that is amplified by the poor delivery or lack of respect given by our criticizers. It is important that no matter how hurtful the conversation, we ask God and ourselves if there is anything constructive we can take away from the the words.

Christians as a whole aren’t very good at this. When people heap insults about how arrogant we are, we scream about how we know the truth with even louder voices. When popular voices call evangelicals a hate group, we respond with anger and defensiveness. It is true that words can hurt us. I feel insulted when someone tells me I am a sinner because I am a woman who is called to teach. However, the best defense of my case is to allow godliness be my witness.

When we are called out for our arrogance we should stop and humbly listen to those around us and choose our words with more care. We shouldn’t let persecution silence us, but we should be cautious to allow the Holy Spirit to help us discern between persecution of the Gospel and persecution of our own personalities. When we hear on the news about the petitions to label evangelicals as a hate group, we should respond by being more loving in our actions towards the world.

It isn’t easy to remove the pill from the poison, but it says something about a person when no matter how aggressive the critique they can find a way to listen.

Or an attack?

My example given above was not criticism, but an attack. There is nothing you can take away, or should take away from an attack. An attack is aimed only to hurt and gives no direction on how to avoid hurt in the future. The message being sent in an attack is meant to tear down your identity, not tell you something about yourself that should be fixed. When we are attacked we must return to the voice that tells us the King of Kings loves us and that love and acceptance will last for eternity.

Sometimes criticism and attack go hand in hand. Name-calling is an attack, but the man or woman who knows who they are in the Lord’s Kingdom can examine the insult and gain helpful correction, with the help of the Spirit.

If we were still by nature sinners, then when people define us by the extremes of our failures they would be right; however, we have been made Saints and are no longer identified by our sins, but by the righteousness given to us by Christ. So when we are called names or people lash out at us, it is edifying to listen only if we apply their insults or criticisms to our actions and not our identity.

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  • Corey

    Loved it! That’s a hard balance for sure. Sweet Kate is lucky to have you in her inner circle for sure. :) Would love to hear more helpful insights on how to correct and counsel each other through healthy critique and how to communicate (the hard stuff) well and with love.