Last February, I called my friend Kelly to discuss an email that we had just received. We cohost a podcast called Soladarity—the Singleness Podcast, and at the time we were only about a month into this new passion project. One of our good friends had sent us an email giving us feedback, and I was not having it.
“Kelly, he hardly listens to podcasts to begin with, let alone creates one himself! This is so silly. I feel so offended right now.”
“But we asked our audience to email us to give us ideas and feedback,” she replied. “This was not unsolicited. I’m glad he wrote us. I love it.”
“If I’m being honest, I didn’t actually want feedback,” I admitted to her.
After Kelly pointed out that our friend made it very clear that he was just thinking out loud, that he loved us very much, and that he had some great thoughts, something clicked for me. Kelly was having an entirely different experience with this feedback. She received it with joy and peace. I on the other hand felt riddled with pride. My deep offense felt jarring and dramatic compared to her happy engagement with the email. I confessed to her on that phone call that I knew that my sin was showing.
Criticism Need Not Apply
I have spent so much of my life carefully calculating what would earn me affirmation, attention, and accolades. I wanted to be highly revered and deeply loved. I did all I could to be the good kid, the smart kid, the capable kid, the best friend, the funniest, the kindest, the holiest, the most responsible . . .
And it worked.
My roommate recently perused my high-school yearbooks and read aloud the old notes from my friends. It was true—I was loved. Admired. Championed. People called me smart, a woman of character. They joked with me, spoke of deep friendship, relived fond memories, as we do in yearbooks. I had achieved the exact kind of feedback that I had been working for all my life.
But God was merciful not to keep me in that trap. In the decade since, God has slowly but surely revealed to me that my endless striving for love and admiration has been in vain, and that if I continued after it, it would also be an ever-smoldering oven, constantly needing to be fueled and fed. It was an idol.
After my interaction with Kelly over the podcast email, I sensed an invitation from the Lord.
“Bridget, I want you to learn how to receive feedback well.”
“But I’m afraid, God,” I replied.
Receiving feedback is scary! I spent every semester of college fighting my pride in my creative writing workshops, forced to listen to 90 minutes of my peers picking apart my short stories and poetry, only to receive a singular grade from my instructors. It was vulnerable and confusing. And I still feel exposed when someone has constructive criticism for me, as it feels like they are finding out that I am not perfect, not smart, not good, not worth it. So naturally, in other areas of my life, I’ve learned to avoid the scenarios where I would have to receive any kind of criticism.
However, in every area of life, we will and should encounter feedback. This is biblical! The book of Proverbs is full of encouragement that receiving wise counsel produces more wisdom. The prophets in the Old Testament were called to speak truth to Israel—to call them out of their idolatry and back into relationship with God. And Jesus himself regularly and thoughtfully engaged with the disciples about their conversations, behavior, and beliefs.
Jesus often gave Peter, in particular, completely unsolicited advice. Luke 5 records one example. Jesus comes upon Peter and other fishermen cleaning their nets after a long night of fishing in which they didn’t catch anything. Wanting to instruct the crowd that had gathered, Jesus asks if he can borrow Peter’s boat to preach from. When he has finished, however, he tells Peter to take the boat out a little further and cast the (just-cleaned) nets once again.
I can just imagine how Peter, a professional fisherman, felt when Jesus told him to do it all over again— during daylight, no less. Probably a lot like I did when I got that email: prideful, frustrated, vulnerable, not good enough.
But still, Peter does it because he respects Jesus. And what happens next?
The best catch of Peter’s life!
Immediately, Peter cries out in humility. He confesses his sinfulness for not believing Jesus. And Jesus encourages him not to be afraid because he will now have a new purpose and a new way of life. At that, Peter and his business partners leave everything behind to follow Jesus.
Jesus’ Way Versus My Way
Their story is my story too.
Jesus has been merciful to get into my boat and let me be close to him. He and I have both witnessed that my way of earning people’s love and admiration to avoid the pain and exposure of their feedback simply does not work.
My way is exhausting. I have spent a lifetime doing all sorts of things to preemptively figure out what will earn someone’s favor and love. It has robbed me of my chance at real friendship with people—letting them love me just because, not because I did things to produce love in them for me. And it has robbed me of the true conversations and scenarios where trust is built, when you or your friend have to give feedback for the sake of moving forward.
Jesus invites me daily to do it his way instead of mine, and although his way is scary and unknown, I can trust that the results will be far greater than I can imagine. Jesus’ way is always going to result in the best catch of my life. It humbles me because it sets me free from the trap of believing I am in control. But knowing that he’s the one with power and authority over all things makes it easier to do things his way. And knowing that we have a God who is in the boat with us, who loves us no matter what and invites us to follow him, makes it easier to receive scary things like feedback. We can rest in who he says we are: a people invited into his greater purpose.
Since Jesus’ invitation to me in February, my relationships have strengthened, because every day I get the chance to choose his way over mine. I feel braver in hearing out my friends, even when it’s tricky and difficult. My heart feels softer because I am letting Jesus be the filter through which I receive feedback. And I have become better at humbly standing up for myself when the feedback isn’t helpful because I am listening to the one who helps me.
So here’s my feedback for you, my friends: it’s okay if people disagree with you on Facebook or want to give you advice, solicited or otherwise. And it’s okay if your roommate needs to tell you that you hurt his or her feelings. It’s okay to be taught something again or even to admit you’re wrong. There’s life beyond our fears of receiving feedback. Jesus has freedom for you. So will you do it your way or his?