I am not known for being short on opinions. Whether my opinions are valid, is another question, of course. Sometimes they are, of course, and I am glad for that. But there have been many times when I’ve confidently pontificated, only to learn I was spewing grade-a baloney.
Maybe you’ve been in the same boat. In fact, I’m sure you probably have. After all, none of us have perfect insight, nor do we have complete information. We are all subject to the qualifiers and disclaimers we need to add to almost everything we say or do in our hyper-offended age.
And that’s the rub, isn’t it?
Because we’re all limited by the information available to us—whether that’s due to our experience or our accumulated knowledge to date—we’re all going to gaff sometimes. Whether in large or small ways, we’re going to get things wrong. We’ll back the wrong the wrong horse (figuratively). We’re going to sin against people we don’t intend to.
And when we do, we need to do something about it. But doing something requires one thing: humility.
A real life (and real time) example
Recently I saw a very kind writer, Gaye Clark, subjected to a barrage of criticism over an article she wrote. In it, she attempted to articulate how God was confronting her attitudes about race. Some people were kinder than others. Some appreciated what she was trying to say, even if they didn’t feel she succeeded. Others were outraged. Others still made threats against her.
But what I saw in the end was admirable. This writer responded to criticism with kindness and a teachable spirit. She ultimately asked for the article to be removed from the website it was published on.
She said, with her words, and with her actions, “Maybe I got it wrong.” Not her desire to speak on a sensitive issue, and specifically one that touched her life and family. That was not wrong. That took courage, especially since criticism is going to come whenever you write something like that.
But the way some things were expressed could have been different. And that’s what she was willing to see, especially from those who were willing to give helpful and constructive feedback.
She displayed one of the finest examples of humility I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Spotting true humility amongst the counterfeits
But this isn’t a post trying to hop onto this week’s social media dust-up. I hope it’s not, anyway. But I am grateful for what the events of the week taught me afresh about humility. And specifically, how I’m not always sure I exhibit it in the way I would like.
See, the thing is, genuine humility is always easy to spot. Imagine you’re looking at two tables and both look like oak. You look at the first one, you see the lines in the wood and see its imperfections on the surface. You try to lift it and find it’s really, really heavy. Chances are, you think, this one’s legit.
Then you come to the second. It looks the same on the surface, more or less. You lift it and are shocked when you pick it up effortlessly. Then you investigate closer, and see the corner starting to peel. You move in for a closer look and start to tug at the peel a bit. Soon enough, you see the table for what it is: a cheap piece of particle board.
Okay, maybe the illustration is a bit weak, but…
Why I am grateful for criticism (even when I kind of hate it)
When we—okay, when I am faced with an issue that challenges me to humble myself, I consistently find that I’m wrestling. I mean, I like being right. I wouldn’t write something thinking I’m wrong (I hope). And ideally, I wouldn’t put something out there that I wasn’t reasonably certain of.
Except for all the times I do, of course.
So I kind of hate criticism in some ways. I want everyone to share words of adoration and encouragement when I write something. To marvel at my self-proclaimed brilliance. And criticism reminds me that I’m not all that.
That actually, I’m kind of a nitwit sometimes.
And so when I receive it—which does happen—it reveals what’s going on in my own heart. Sometimes I’m too quick to acquiesce, which is a problem (because it’s probably people pleasing). When I am resistant, I am often being proud because, as I just mentioned, I’m dumb.
But neither approach is appropriate. Neither is godly. Godly humility has a weight to it. Or maybe it’s better to say it bears the weight of criticism. It doesn’t bow to people pleasing pressures, nor does it refuse to budge to protect personal pride. Those are the way of destruction. “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall,” after all (Proverbs 16:18, HCSB).
But true humility does neither of these. Instead, it allows us to hear criticism and to address our errors and sins.
Criticism gives us the opportunity to display this kind of humility. We get to show what we’re made of—or more correctly, what God is making us into by his Spirit. And we can give glory to God because of that. Alhough we may not like being criticized (I know I don’t), this, I think, is ample reason to thank God for them.