How To Handle Criticism and Complaints;
Don’t Resent It - Overcome It
Criticism and complaints are the thorns along the path of life. People who fall into this behavior make themselves and everyone around them unhappy. Unfortunately, it is a difficult habit to break. Some people seem naturally negative—finding the worst in every situation.
The pastor of a small church had a critic in his congregation. On the day of the annual church picnic, it suddenly occurred to him that no one called and personally invited her to attend. He dialed her up and when she answered, he confessed the oversight. He then said that he really hoped she would still attend. She replied, "It’s too late to say you are sorry. I have already prayed for rain!"
The Bible says God wants Christians to be different than that. Our scripture today instructs its readers to "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." (Scripture???)
1. Get Honest with God and yourself .
If you struggle with a negative attitude, admit it is a problem for you— not for other people, but for you.
A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance. (Proverbs 28:13 )
Often the most difficult part in learning how to handle complaining is recognizing it in yourself. If someone were to record your speech for one solid week, would you like what you would hear? How much time do you spend griping, grumping, complaining, arguing and criticizing others?
Complaining isn’t just a bad habit; it’s a sin. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul teaches that it was the murmuring of the children of Israel against Moses that led to their eventual death in the desert. . Seven times in that chapter, Paul writes "they murmured." The reason the children of Israel never got into the promised-land was because they were complainers. That’s how serious God regards what we say.
A pastor asked one consistently unhappy man in his church if he knew what his talents were. The man said he had only one "criticism." The pastor was thoughtful for a moment, then told the man that if he only had one talent he recommended for him to do what the man in scripture with one talent did. Bury it!
2. Stop Blaming God and Others for Your Unhappiness.
Most of the unfortunate things of my life were caused by one person, me. And some of the toughest times I have faced were simply the results of living in a broken down world. But most of them were no one’s fault but my own. We reap what we sow. When I reap what I sow I have no legitimate right to complain about the results. You are free to choose what you want to do in life. God has given you the freedom of choice. But once you have made the choice, you are no longer free. You’re free to make the choice, but you’re never free from the consequences of choice. It has been said that there are three kinds of people in life: accusers, excusers, and choosers. Accusers always say "It’s your fault." When Adam sinned he took it like a man—he blamed his wife, "Eve did it," and then he blamed God, "You gave me that woman." Excusers say "I’m a product of my environment. It’s not really my fault." The people that are really successful in life are neither accusers nor excusers. They are choosers. They accept responsibility for their decisions. When they reap what they sow they take it and move ahead.
A very pious woman approached Daniel Webster when his unabridged dictionary was published. She said to him, "I am shocked that you printed the definitions of so many nasty words!" His classic reply was, "Madam, I am shocked that you took the time to look [them] up!"
3. Focus On What You Have Not What You Don’t Have.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18)
Notice that Paul does not instruct us to be thankful "for all circumstances". But, he does remind us that we can be thankful that he works IN all of our circumstances to bring something good out of the worst of times. You can’t always be thankful for circumstances, but you can be thankful in the midst of the situation. Develop an attitude of gratitude. Learn to be grateful for what you have. It’s a tremendous antidote for complaining. Whenever we complain it’s usually because we are ungrateful.
A pastor was speaking to a women’s group and after his speech they presented him with a modest honorarium. He graciously returned it and asked that they utilize it where it was needed the most. His host replied with a wide grin, "Oh, thank you. We’ll put it in our fund for better speakers!"
A married couple was sitting in the living room one evening. The husband looked over to his wife and said, "Do you mind if I point out of few of your more obvious faults?" She replied, "Certainly not. I am sure it was those same faults which prevented me from marrying better".
It is important to remember when Paul wrote this letter that he was in prison. He didn’t know if he would live or be executed. People were taking advantage of his imprisonment and saying all kinds of things behind his back. He could have been angry and critical. How did he avoid falling into that trap? He explains his philosophy of life by writing;
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)
4. Respond Correctly when You Are Criticized.
All criticism hurts but some sting worse than others. Our critics know how to slice and dice professionally.
One small community decided to form an orchestra. The whole town was present for the first performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The local newspaper critic was there and the brief review in the paper the next morning simply read, "Last evening, the local symphony played Beethoven. Beethoven lost".
Here is some practical advice I have learned to practice after more than twenty years of service in the local church. In that time, I have dealt with my own fair share of criticism.
• If you are a leader, expect to be criticized.
Someone has said, "If you want to lead the orchestra, you have to turn your back to the audience." You must learn to stay focused on your work in spite of what is being said behind your back.
A friend of mine is a Division I, NCAA college basketball referee. A few years ago, he called some of the Final Four basketball games. I asked him what makes the difference between the good and great officials. He told me, "It is the ability to stay focused on the game while tuning out the constant criticism of the crowd".
• Don’t reward negative behavior.
My wife and I learned to ignore the negative behavior of our children when they were toddlers. We finally realized when our boys discovered displeasing behavior would not bring them what they wanted, they found a more positive way of expressing their needs. This same principle also works when dealing with critics. Some of the criticism one receives is valid and should be taken seriously. However, if it is intended to manipulate, I choose to ignore it.
Abraham Lincoln is remembered today as one of our nation’s finest Presidents. However, during his tenure he may have been the most criticized. On one occasion, he stated that, "If I stopped to read, much less, answer, every letter of criticism I receive, this office would have to be closed for nothing else but that of dealing with critics and complainers".
Answer criticism with accomplishments. After one of Lincoln’s speeches, the newspaper in Chicago wrote a scathing editorial. A portion of those comments stated, "The cheeks of every American should be red with shame at that silly, washed-out, utterance of the man who has to be introduced to foreigners as the President of the United States". That "washed-out" speech would come to be known as The Gettyburg Address.
• Stay focused on the task at hand.
Refuse to alter the agenda either to retaliate or please "unpleasable" people.
When the New York Times informed the builder of the Panama Canal of critics back home, the reporter wondered out loud how the general intended to answer his skeptics. He simply said, "I will answer them by building the Panama Canal".
Paul completes these brief verses with an admonition to the Philippians to be "Children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." Our culture is so negative. When you find a person who is genuinely positive they stick out like a sore thumb. The contrast is obvious. They shine like a star in the middle of a dark night. It is so different to be positive in this world, to not be a complainer, not be critical, not be a put-down person, that when you become that in your own life, you will shine like a star. Whether you habitually complain or you are under the white-hot heat of the critics ...?
Finally, if you are tempted to criticize, complain or gossip, carefully read our Lord’s words in Luke 12:2-4 and Paul’s advice about ones speech in Ephesians 4:29. This four-way test has saved me the regret of a misspoken word more than once in my life. Perhaps it will do the same for you. Before you speak ask yourself:
1. Is It True?
2. Is It Necessary?
3. Is It Helpful?
4. Is It Edifying?