Courtesy Whitmer Photography

It’s Election Day in the US of A, and by the time you read this we may well know who will take office in January of 2013. Many have commented what a contentious campaign it’s been on both sides of the political aisle.

Most of us will never have to respond to political attack ads, but none of us is immune from criticism. The past two weeks I’ve posted some personal thoughts on handling the heat. In the final post of this series, here are seven practical steps to help us filter criticism in a redemptive way.

1.       Choose blessing rather than bitterness.

In the days following our receipt of that “Scud missile” over 20 years ago,  I felt incapable of turning off the recorder that mentally replayed the harsh complains of the writer. This individual had attacked our church, our family – even my writing, innocuous as it seemed. How could I respond in love to this person who seemed intent on tearing us down rather than building us up?

I realized I had three choices: to become bitter and put up a wall, to become emotionally barren and withdraw, or to consider myself blessed because of the One we serve. “Do not repay…insult with insult but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” 1 Peter 3:9. The choice is ours.

2.       Redefine victory.

To most of us winning implies triumphing over an opponent, getting our own way, or vindication. We want our critics to apologize or at least recognize how deeply they have wounded us. Most of the time this never happens. In God’s economy, “winning” has more to do with our spiritual development than it does with our opponent’s defeat. In Scripture, God often seems more invested in who comes out of a battle than what the outcome is.  True victory comes from being able to truly love our adversaries as God does regardless of their behavior.

3.      Study role models in Scripture.

Moses was no stranger to others’ complaints or David to rebuke. Mary of Nazareth  certainly must have kept silent in the face of cultural scorn and misunderstanding. Learning to respond to adversity as these leaders did is a potent stimulant to spiritual growth. The life of Christ himself is a case study in dealing with criticism in a godly manner.

4.       Look beyond the fault to see the need.

Sometimes our accusers go on the offense due to deep needs in their own lives that are unseen to us. We must recognize that we may be absorbing the anger of other people at times in a way that ultimately has nothing to do with us.

5.       Contextualize the criticism.

When Mike and I carefully considered the painful letter we received, we realized that the writer’s distance from our church situation supplied potential for misunderstanding. Further reflection reminded us that our critic was experiencing significant work-related stress.

6.       Retreat to restore perspective.

A retreat can be defined as a “strategic withdrawal.” The benefits of getting away for a few hours or even days are numerous. Withdrawing in order to prayerfully lay our pain before God can provide the insight needed to respond constructively.

7.       Stop, drop, and roll!

At a women’s retreat where I was speaking  this past weekend, the planning team performed a great skit based on a simple children’s song that teaches kids what to do if their clothes ever catch on fire. The same advice can remind big people what to do when we are “burned” by criticism.

First, stop and listen. Don’t fight or run. Trauma can be averted by taking time to hear out your accuser.

Second, drop to your knees and take the matter to the Father for comfort and counsel. Moses fell on his face when confronted with the Israelites’ complaints (Num. 14:5), and he didn’t respond until he had first received direction from the Lord.

And finally, roll with the punches! Take the proactive approach. We may not be able to prevent an attack but, with God’s help, we can control our response.