Criticism, and my band of Brothers

“…but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother…”

In times like this, I have to stop in the midst of my many tasks and obligations and give a hearty “barbaric yawp” and shout-out to my dear brothers.

Brothers not merely in the flesh, but in the bonds of the Spirit and clasped hands of friendship. These men who uplift me in their impassioned prayers, uphold me with their loving reproof, and uplight me with their instruction and profound insight.

I cannot imagine where I would be without them.

A few days ago I was reading The Horse and His Boy with my daughter Gaelynn when I came to a part where two horses and their riders are racing back to Archenland to warn the king of their enemies, who are arriving unaware. Even though they’re running quite fast, Lewis writes that the horses are not running quite as fast as they could. Suddenly a lion jumps out of the thicket and begins to pursue the horses, who find that they can indeed run faster…  much faster. Later it is revealed that the lion was Aslan himself, scaring the horses to run at their true speed because they needed to go faster to escape their encroaching adversary.

I stopped when I read that, and immediately called a friend of mine on the phone. For, the episode I had just read, reminded me of a moment of weakness and struggle I had endured barely a week prior. I had confided my struggles to a few of my brothers, each of whom said they would pray with me.

But one of them, instead of the usual vague “I’ll pray for you” off-hand remark we Evangelicals are renowned for, gave me a rhetorical slap upside the head. Pointing out a far deeper concern that I had overlooked, he extolled me to focus on the more problematic issue which would, in turn, help me to resolve the concern I had mentioned.

This friend and brother loved me enough to point out the bigger picture and keep me from taking a step in the wrong direction, preserving me from danger. While I agonized over a few gnats, he helped me vomit up the camel I had foolishly swallowed.

While the initial criticism stung my pride, the Spirit turned my venom inward toward the true source of my consternation: my own folly. Like someone pointing out that my zipper was unzipped, I was embarrassed that I’d neglected something so basic…  and yet thankful to have found out more sooner than later.

Criticism can be crippling. I know that I shouldn’t but, when someone criticizes me, I sometimes feel personally affronted. Though I am outwardly able to maintain a placed and patient posture, internally I am raging.

Is it pride? Sure…  but there’s also a sense that it’s far easier to stand along the sidelines and offer a few piercing criticisms than to get in the game. That, the critic doesn’t know my pain and therefore cannot possibly offer anything truly relevant to the matter at hand.

At the newspaper where I work one reader recently pointed out an instance where I’d made an error in a part of speech, and had accidentally neglected a prepositional phrase in another sentence.

“Where’d you learn to write anyway? You call yourself a writer!”

Obviously the critic’s intent factors into it, but I felt personally slighted. That this person was disrespecting me and seeking only to cause me pain. I wanted to rail at her, to justify myself before her by returning her insult with my own sharp riposte.

Instead, I let it go. I thanked her for pointing out my error, adding that I would be more vigilant about my grammar in the future. Not because her tone was appropriate, but that she was correct. I was in error, and I needed to pay closer attention. I am, after all, a professional. I shouldn’t make such an elementary mistake.

By the scolding of some woman I have never met, and will likely never talk to again, I felt it was the Lord guiding me toward greater vigilance in my life… even in something rather small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. While it would be easy to laugh, mock, and jeer some anonymous stranger’s nitpicking, I believe such occasions are teachable moments.

Even as Aslan himself gave chase to the Narnian horses, I believe God works through many such means to get through my obstinence. Sometimes I think He must take forms that run roughshod over my sensibilities for my own good. Be it a whining child, a foolish driver, or an anonymous caller who threatens my life for writing about a crime that occurred, He would teach me to be patient, to remain steadfast, to have courage, and to seek the wisdom He imparts from such folly.

So how much more, then, am I thankful for my co-laborers, these valiant brothers and gentlemen in my midst in whom I have built an absolute trust.

Right now there is much in motion amongst my brothers. There are agonies and blessings, opportunities and tragedies, growth and regress…  but through it all I feel so personally blessed to have these men in my life.

Again, I cannot imagine where I would be without them and I am so thankful that the Lord, in His providence, has seen fit to give me such a gift.

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