Accepting Criticism with Grace

If you’d like to see a bunch of moms get riled up on the Internet, one of the quickest ways to accomplish that is to criticize another mom’s parenting. Make a judgment about screen time or discipline or education (or even simply share what your family does and why) and watch as a torrent of angry women descend to put you in your place. “Everyone’s different and who are you to judge? We all just do whatever works for us! There’s no right way to parent!” Defensiveness when receiving criticism—even that of the constructive variety—is almost unfailingly the response.

And despite the almost comedic predictability of this entire exchange, I think those women are close to the truth on some of those points, though I would phrase it a bit differently and say there’s not only one right way to parent. How we choose to manage screens, discipline, or educate our children will vary based on our situations, resources, and convictions. Godly parents will come to different conclusions on these and a myriad of other decisions and will honor God as they live out those differences.

However, I think we all know that there are some very wrong ways to parent. That’s why when we know we’re falling short, we say, “Oh, I’m such a bad mom for_________.” We want our friends to say what we’ve now obligated them to say, which is, “No! You’re not a bad mom! You’re a great mom! We’re all just doing our best!” Have you done this before? I’m guiltily raising my hand along with you right now.

And sometimes it’s true. Sometimes we beat ourselves up over parenting moves that are truly benign and we need to be reminded that we’ve not damaged our kids forever by letting them eat junk food now and then. But sometimes we feel guilty because we know we’ve truly fallen short of God’s standards. I know I have many times.

Instead of demanding that no one judge and everyone affirm us regardless of our actions, wouldn’t it be better to be women who seek to be wise, as described in Proverbs 9:7-9?

“Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

Is that your gut reaction when you’re reproved? To love the person who has offered the reproof? It’s certainly not mine. My instinct is to get angry and defensive when I’m criticized or corrected. I don’t think that responding with humility and gratitude toward the reprover comes naturally to most of us.

Yet this is the path that leads to true change and growth. We can refuse to accept critique and surround ourselves with people who will never challenge us when we are wrong, but we do so at the expense of growing in Christlikeness. It is an act of grace for someone to offer us needed reproof. James 5:19 reminds us, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

Many times, I have been that sinner wandering when another believer has had the courage and love to show me where I have strayed and encourage me to return to walking in step with the Spirit. It has always been uncomfortable and embarrassing. I have never enjoyed it in the moment. Sometimes I have responded defensively. But when I have been willing to hear what they had to say and examine myself honestly, I have found that those difficult criticisms were actually life-giving, pulling me back from a path that leads to death.

The truth is that all moms are sinners. That’s the only kind of mom there has ever been. Instead of trying to convince ourselves and others that we’re doing just fine, let’s be honest and admit that we sin and sometimes—maybe even often—need others to show us our sin so we can turn from it. And then, when they do, let’s ask God to help us accept that reproof with grace and humility. In doing so, we will find ourselves growing in grace and maturity.

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