The dialogue from earlier in the day continued to loop in my head, like an annoying song on replay. What he said. What she said. Then, what a third, uninvolved party said. It was a negative comment left on social media about our business. A business that we had worked long and hard to open. And it was still in its first year of operation. It felt like there should be a grace period for such things. Yet a part of me knew better, because consumers are entitled to their opinions.
I had difficulty concentrating and felt myself pulled away by the memory of it. The overwhelming concern about how the comment may negatively effect business couldn't be shaken. Plus, I had reacted with a short fuse towards my loved ones, as a result. Sleep eluded me that night as I stared into the darkness, putting myself on trial in the courtroom of my anxious thoughts. Had I responded in the right way? Did I say too much or not enough? Should I have responded at all?
The critical comment happened in the midst of a good and uneventful day. It snuck up on me when I least expected it, blindsiding me, as these things have a way of doing. My heart began to pound within my chest as I stared at the words on the screen. Was this really happening? Was someone really criticizing the work God had called us to? Criticism can be our best friend or our worst enemy, depending on who delivers it, and how we perceive it. But on this occasion, it felt harsh, unfair, and unwelcome. My response to the comment, I would later learn, rose from a place of defending the people I love, that were also involved. It felt like the right thing in the moment. Yet later I scrutinized myself about whether my response was justified or correct.
As time passed, my emotions began to calm, and my thoughts became more clear. By realizing that I was giving my time and energy to something that wasn’t deserving, I was unintentionally giving less of myself to the people and activities that really mattered. It’s one thing to be given criticism from someone who has my best interest at heart; who genuinely wants to be helpful. In those instances, I have learned it's important to be receptive, and to see it as an opportunity to help identify a blind spot and grow.
The struggle really happens when I allow criticism from someone who does not have my best interest at heart. Often those people are being critical just for the sake of doing so. I do believe that even in those instances, there is wisdom in examining what was said and potentially applying it where needed. But there is also wisdom in not taking it to heart. In not allowing myself to be so consumed by it to the point that I stop pursuing my call to God's Kingdom work.
The Enemy often uses distraction and discouragement as strategies to lead me away from the truth of my identity in Christ. You see, the Enemy wants me to stop from pursuing God's purpose in the work I am doing. He will do this in a variety of different ways that are often difficult to recognize at the time. He will even use my own thoughts, social media, busyness, and the painful words of other people. There's an example of this in the Book of Nehemiah 6:1-3 (NIV).
“When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Genshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that
I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it-though up to that time I had not set the
doors in the gates- Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together
in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.’ But they were scheming to harm me, so I sent
messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.
Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’”
This is a clear example of a helpful response from Nehemiah to a distraction that is meant to be harmful. Nehemiah knew that it would be of no benefit for him to go and meet with these men, as requested. In the same way, giving my time and energy to things and events that are discouraging me is often an Enemy tactic used to steal my inner peace. To slow or stop me from what God has called me to do. May my response in those moments also be, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.” Nehemiah also prays later in this chapter, “Now strengthen my hands.” (vs 9) It’s a helpful reminder that I must be alert and wise to the Enemy’s tactics, and to continually seek the Lord for my strength.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
There have been many moments in my own life when I have allowed the Enemy to pull me down into a pit of discouragement from circumstances or criticism from others. Too often I have given these moments more of my energy than they deserve. When I revisit these verses in Nehemiah 6:1-3, 9, it serves as a powerful reminder of how to respond in those moments. It helps me to refocus, and reminds me of how the Father sees me, and who I am in Him.
Father, thank you for the reminder that you have important work for me to do. Give me wisdom and the ability to recognize the Enemy's schemes against me. Please provide the strength to respond in the right way. Amen.
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