Like many of you, I maintain a list of favorite things. For instance, my hamburger of choice is the mushroom burger. My preferred sport is football and San Francisco is my most beloved city. Nothing on my list is too surprising except for a favorite trash can.
To understand why a wastepaper basket should inspire a spiritual column, you should understand that this particular bin sits in the post office where I receive mail from my readers.
No, I don't normally discard reader mail, far from it. Most of it comes from people sharing their personal stories or prayer requests; some of it from critical thinkers who ask that I reconsider my views.
This is the mail I share with my most critical reader, Mrs. Burkes. While sitting in our fireplace recliner, she will often explain how some of my readers were right and I was completely stupid. She loves me like that.
However, some missives are better suited for the blue recycle box. These letters begin with a bullying barrage of banalities and end with a litany of judgmental name- calling. As quickly as I recognize their hateful tone, I pitch them into the recycle box where I hope to see them reincarnated as daffodil stationery.
I'm not telling you this as a way of payback toward those nasty letter writers; I take them at their word that they no longer read the column.
I tell you this because, like me, you've known the sting of criticism from a passing acquaintance or rude coworker who hasn't bothered to know the real you. But unlike written criticism, verbal criticism can't be shredded.
How can you deal with such criticism? Allow me to share three strategies.
Pray for two things. First, pray for forgiveness for the critical person. Second, ask for wisdom to see and confess your part in the criticism. We do this because Jesus said, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." It's not what the prayer will do for the critical person, it's what it'll do for you. Prayer will also help you with the second strategy.
Just as I sort the letters, you must sort criticism. Give the critique strong consideration only if it comes from someone who cares about the outcome of your life. In such a case, you must examine it for truth. There's an old saying, "If one person calls you a donkey, ignore it. If three people call you a donkey, buy a saddle." If the criticism comes from someone who wishes you harm, employ the next strategy.
When it comes to the toxicity of negative criticism, look for the metaphorical equivalent to the trash can. Many of us purge through physical activity, such as gardening or hiking. Others use therapy pets.
I recommend purging with ritual or liturgy. For instance, take a moment to write the criticism onto paper. Fold it so no one can read it. Then, ask a family member, friend or pastor to join you alongside a shredder. Ask your friend to pray that you'll find the ability to let the hurtful words go. After saying "amen," run the paper through the shredder.
Finally, at the end of the day, I advise you to filter all critical words though the words of the Apostle Paul: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He is an Air National Guard chaplain. You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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