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What Criticism Should Actually Look Like

What Criticism Should Actually Look Like

In today’s world, you don’t have to go far to encounter people being critical of just about anything. Scroll through your social media feeds and you’ll see biting comments and mean-spirited critiques. It can be easy to get sucked into the cycle of attacking or defensiveness.

But sometimes, we’re the most critical of ourselves—and that plays out in our attacks against others. Jen Hatmaker wants to help remedy this by freeing people up to stop feeling guilty and being overly critical of themselves. In her new book, For the Love, the author and speaker encourages readers to live out of grace, and to use grace to accept criticism and give correction in the context of loving community when needed.

What are the main points you are trying to convey with this book?

The subtitle is, “Fighting for grace in a world of impossible standards.” That is the current throughout the entire book. I just find that women spend a lot of time feeling guilty for what they feel like they’re not doing well. They feel like no matter how hard they work, it’s never enough. There’s just this chronic sense of being not enough at all times. I just think it’s absurd and it’s not true. It’s a lie.

So this book was written to aim at setting people free, really. I’m not offering advice on how to fix yourself. It’s not like “Here’s five steps to be a better mom.” It’s more a message of saying, “You’re already OK. You’re already amazing. You’re already gifted. You’re already important. You already matter.”

What I hope to do is help women get their arms around a healthier, stronger identity in Christ—and then just completely live out of that freedom. I find that when we are very self-critical, we become others-critical. But when we are gracious and when we learn to receive grace, we are much better grace-givers.

We see a lot of people being hard on others on social media, and many of them would say they’re defending truth. How do you think we hold firm to our beliefs but also show love and grace to people?

I think there’s a lot of tension there. I feel it all the time—I feel those tremors.

A good question to ask is people who say, “This grace thing is getting out of hand” is “How is the gatekeeper of truth thing working out?” I don’t mean that as snarky as it sounds, but how’s it working out? Is it drawing people to Christ? Is it bringing people into community? Is it building bridges? Is it healing?

What I tend to see is when the foot we lead with is truth-defender, it alienates, it isolates, it shames and damages.

There is something very powerful about pulling up a seat to the table across from someone who has a different interpretation, a different lifestyle, a different belief all together, and just saying, “My aim here is not to be heard and to be right, my aim is to listen to you and try to understand you.” That approach is so healing, it is so disarming. We end up discovering that we can find some really beautiful common ground almost every time. We are able to become menders, healers and reconcilers in our generation again.

Do you think there is a place for criticism within Church at all?

I certainly do. Thank goodness for it. I’ve received that when I needed it, and I’m better for it.

For me, that is typically done best in genuine community. When I have been corrected appropriately, it’s been through people who love me, and they have been through the trenches with me. I know they are for me and their aim is not to humiliate me publicly or shame me on Twitter. Their aim is to bring me into a place of restoration.

A lot of us are throwing spiritual missiles of correction at one another, and we’ve not earned the right to be heard. We have no relational investment in that person’s life. We have not walked in their shoes, we have not walked beside them or among them. All we are there to be is a corrector. I feel like we’re getting that all wrong. That is the cart before the horse.

So I think there is absolutely a place for spiritual correction, but it is not on Twitter to strangers.

What does that look like practically?

That plays out in a thousand ordinary ways. I am recalling dozens of coffees, lunch dates among a faith community who’s invested in one another just to say, “I’m worried about what I feel and I’m worried about how your heart is. I love you and I’m for your marriage. I love you and I’m for your kid. How can I come alongside of you in this time?”

Those are loving questions—that conversation in that sort of tone and in that sort of space, face-to-face. That’s born out of love, and it feels entirely different than someone who is simply trying to throw a stone at you.

To me, this is a natural outcropping of a healthy faith community. We are vulnerable alongside of each other, we are confessing to each other, we are praying for each other, we are transparent in front of each other. That’s biblical. That’s how Jesus called us into the church and into community.

When you have committed yourself to that sort of transparent community, then course-correcting with each other is just part of it.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

I honestly hope they close the last page of For The Love and they feel refreshed and liberated and understood and cheered on. I hope they feel ready to run their race.

I think it’s sincerely possible for our generation to live in grace with one another. I think we can be in this world and for this world, instead of always set against it so defensively and so judgmentally. I really do think we can recapture the good part of our good news and make it lovely again for a watching world who is hungry and thirsty and lonely.

I really sincerely believe in the message of grace. I have seen it change people’s lives. I have seen it change marriages, families, churches, whole cities, whole communities. So I’ll never lay down the drum, never.

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