“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 13:14
A lady was recently describing how she was being criticized by someone close to her. The accusations and complaints were untrue, distorted, or one-sided. She complained to a friend about the unfair treatment. After going through the details and defending herself she waited for the friend’s affirmation and consolation. Instead, her friend simply said, "So?"
So? That sounds flippant. It’s sounds dismissive. It sounds as if the friend did not care. Actually, it's wise. The friend was trying to remind her that the accusations did not matter. What mattered was her response to them. So? empowers you and focuses on what you can control (only you). Instead of feeling attacked and the need to defend yourself, you neutralize and rise above the criticism.
This skill is enormously difficult, but it’s surely part of Paul’s meaning in this text. Jesus said the same thing, adding that you are blessed when people persecute and say all manner of lies about you. I suppose most of us secretly wish Paul had not written this and Jesus hadn’t taught it. It’s far more natural to respond in kind, and it feels better for a short time. But God has our long-term and best interest in mind.
Think right now of your most virulent critic. You can recall instantly the unfairness you have suffered at his or her hands. You recall the accusations, and you can resurrect the defenses immediately. In fact, just being reminded of your critic may aggravate you for few minutes, hours, or even days. Having that criticism in mind, try a one word response: So? Let’s look at three ways this simple response works for you.
So? simply means you’re a human being, and so far in recorded history every human being has had unfair critics. You are not unique or exempt from the unfairness of other people. However, most of us feel that if other people knew how good we really are then surely they wouldn’t be mean to us! Or if everyone understood why we, on exceedingly rare occasions, may act a bit peevish then they would overlook our minor faults and like us.
Let me repeat, you are NOT unique or exempt. We all have unfair critics. Welcome to the human race. And by the way, it probably will help to remember that you can be just as unfair. We are all broken. Unfair critics are a part of life, and, therefore, a part of your life.
So? means that you are going to focus on spiritual resources. I’m amazed by how easily a critic can ruin my prayer life. I go to God and complain, which is fine if I leave it there. But usually I end up rehearsing WHAT I SHOULD HAVE SAID. Or I have a running conversation in my mind about what stinging riposte I’ll have ready for the next encounter. My prayer time becomes a waste of time.
Critics are good at pushing my buttons, so I have to work on rewiring my buttons. An unfair critic should remind me to pray, not silence my prayers. An unfair critic should remind me of why I read scripture or devotional works. In a world of unfair, unkind, and unrighteous words and actions, I need the Spirit to lift me above the fray. Instead of throwing me off my spiritual disciplines, the unfair critic reminds me of why I need the spiritual disciplines. Don't let the bad words keep you from doing the good things. Keep praying.
Finally, So? means that you can stop living through the opinions of others. Most of us greet one another by saying “how are you?” But judging by the way we live, most of us could more accurately say, “how am I?” We are tied in unhealthy ways to the opinions of other people, and most ironically we are tied to the critics. A hundred people could write that this is a great article, one person writes that it stinks. Guess who I’m going to be thinking about at 1:00 a.m?
But if I trust God to take care of the problems in me then I don’t have to think about that critic at 1:00 a.m. I can sleep and hope the critic is tossing and turning wondering why I’m not more susceptible to his slings and arrows. I can also sleep better because I’m no longer consumed with changing my critic.
You have a critic at home? At work? In the rear-view mirror? So? Don’t let them affect you. A critic cannot stop you from doing what you need to do. Ultimately, you must listen to God for your value. He is a God of grace, and He approves of you. Stop giving power to your persecutors. Start trusting more in God.
Dr. Terry Ellis
March 30, 2014