Growth through Discomfort

Do you feel uncomfortable when someone critiques you? Do you have a problem when people point out your faults? Many of us do! Having served as a technical leader in corporate America and as a pastor, I have seen people get very uncomfortable in team meetings or during annual performance reviews when I offered constructive criticism that can help them change and grow.

By the way, I used to be a person who was very uncomfortable when people offered me constructive criticisms in personal or team settings. Conflict or Criticism was not a word that brought wonderful pictures to my mind. When I thought of Conflict or Criticism, I used to think of anger, lack of self-control, violence and struggle. I had a tendency to diplomatically sidestep these issues or to postpone it to a later time because I always looked at it from the negative perspective.

My personal transformation happened when I realized that the Holy Spirit never leads us away from conflict and constructive criticism – it is central to the Christian experience toward spiritual maturity. Personal transformation is a journey filled with anguishing choices. We can find encouragement in that we are not alone, nor unattended.  The Lord walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).Conflict and criticisms managed “in-Christ” becomes a learning-growing experience. Avoiding and compromising now transforms into discovery and dialog in Christ onto growth. This was a life transforming discovery for me!

We grow only through discomfort. When we are comfortable, there’s no reason to change. The book of Proverbs helps us appreciate the voices of those who make us feel uncomfortable with ourselves: “He who criticizes a man will in the end find more favor than he who flatters him” (Proverbs 28:23). We all love compliments. They make us feel special and connected to the person who offers them. But Proverbs tells us to be wary of the flatterer, the person who gives us too many compliments. We will do better with the person who offers us solid criticism that can help us grow and change in the future, than with one who offers us the fleeting luxury of a feel-good moment.
How well do you take criticism?
How well do you give it?

The book of Proverbs contains many descriptions of the wise man and the foolish one, comparing and contrasting them, praising one and criticizing the other. One of the most meaningful differences between the wise person and the fool is how they each react to criticism. “Do not criticize the fool for he will hate you. Correct the wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).

To understand why wisdom requires criticism, we have to think about the nature of rebuke. The Apostle Paul calls pastors to “rebuke” and “correct” the flock (1Tim5:20; 2Tim4:2; Titus 2:15) so that holiness and health may be way of life in a local church. Rebuke and correction that come from the Word and Spirit of God is health to our lives.

Sincere thoughtful feedback and constructive criticism not only fulfills the biblical command, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your friend” (Leviticus 19:7), it also helps clear the barriers that stand in the way of a relationship. The great Jewish Rabbi Maimonides tells us how best to give difficult feedback – softly, in private and for the good of the person and not for our own good (Maimonides, Laws of Character 6:7).

All of us still struggle with hearing the hard words properly, and we often put up our emotional defenses during these difficult face-to-face meetings. Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “faithful are the wounds from our faithful friends!”…. in other words, constructive criticisms from our faithful friends are for our health, even if they hurt our egos or sensitivities! These words of rebuke can be a pathway to a more wholesome life.

Many will shrug off a rebuke with the simple dismissal, “It’s just words,” but in the Jewish tradition of the Old/New Testament, words have power, weight and substance (Proverbs 18:21). Words are our intellectual and emotional currency; they exist in the world. They are not wind or air that circulates lightly among us. They have weight and measure. Selecting the right words, the right context in which to use those words, and the right people to whom to say them is the better part of wisdom, especially when it comes to giving criticism and when it comes to the things that we have to say! Constructive criticism aims at clearing a path so that relationships can move forward.

The way that we give and receive criticism is often shaped by culture, community expectations and societal norms. When we are defensive, we lose a whole avenue to introspection that can help us develop and grow in our sensitivity and thoughtfulness to others.

Think of the helpful words of a pastor, mentor, a supervisor, or someone who took your last performance review seriously and gave you feedback that might not have been comfortable to hear but helped you become a better professional. Or the friend who you thought insulted you, but actually helped you become a better person. There’s the word your wife said that offended you, but it actually made you see that you weren’t treating one of your children with the proper respect. Every day we receive messages about ourselves. Every once in a while, someone cares enough to tell us what they see.
“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (Psalm 141:5)
Something to do…
  1. Ask someone who is close to you either professionally or personally for feedback about something very specific. Listen carefully and prompt with questions. Think afterwards about what they said, how it made you feel, and what you’re going to do about it.
  1. Think of a relationship that has suffered because you have not been telling someone what you really think. Find a way to give respectful feedback that shows love and concern. How did you do?
Dr. Erica Brown, In the Narrow Places: Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks (p. 52). Koren Publishers Jerusalem.



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