Turning a Blind Eye and Deaf Ear to Criticism and FlatteryTim Kinnard
One of the interesting challenges that has come along with our homesteading journey is the amount of both criticism and praise we’ve received from those watching what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
A lot of the feedback we get has to do with our original decision to move out to the country to get our hands dirty in the soil, to live a more frugal and quiet life, and to raise our kids in the old fashioned traditions of farm chores, tree forts, and home schooling. But we also receive plenty of comments dealing with our lack of experience in the farming world. Amy and I both grew up in more urban areas with little to no experience in agriculture. It’s obvious to many we’re not 100% sure what we’re doing as we learn to grow things in our garden and to raise different kinds of animals.
We hear from an interesting mix of people. Some hold the opinion that what we’re doing is crazy, foolish, and ignorant. They believe the life we’re giving our kids is more of a disservice than a service to them since we’re “robbing them of their childhood” by asking them to help pull weeds, feed pigs, and check for eggs. I guess that’s as opposed to letting them play video games all day. Though, we will sometimes hear from those who do share a love for farming and have a bit more experience that we do, who make it a point to let us know that practically everything we’re doing could be done a better way and, of course, their way is that better way.
There’s another group of people out there who think what we’re doing is absolutely amazing and who praise us for our efforts. They call us “good parents” and “respectable people” for trying to escape some of the craziness of our modern culture and to try and re-learn some of the wholesome values of country life.
I’ll go ahead and tell you that both kinds of feedback—both the criticism on the one hand and the high praise on the other—can be a challenge for us to deal with. On the one hand, whenever we hear the criticism, both Amy and I can get really discouraged and be tempted to throw in the towel. On the other hand, whenever we hear the flattering praise, we can be tempted to a great amount of pride. We can start to get the big head and boast to ourselves, “yeah, we must have been pretty smart to make the decisions we’ve made to get us to where we are today.”
I’m convinced both lines of thinking are deadly dangerous. Speaking from a Christian perspective, both self-condemnation and self-adulation are toxic thoughts for a Christian to let take root in their heart and mind. Knowing full well that I’m not alone in this struggle, I want to share a simple piece of advice when it comes to receiving both criticism and flattery. The advice is to “turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it” as much as possible.
I remember reading a chapter in Charles Spurgeon’s, Lectures to My Students, written primarily for pastors, warning them not to get too distracted by all the gossip and chatter taking place about their ministry, but rather took to develop a blind eye and a deaf ear towards it. Writing about the challenge of criticism, he says:
“You cannot stop people’s tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears, and never mind what is spoken. There is a world of idle chit-chat abroad, and he who takes note of it will have enough to do.”
In other words, if you’re going to give attention to every ill word spoken about you, you’re going to be occupied for a very long time. You’re better off just ignoring it and getting back to the work that you should be doing.
Later addressing the equal challenge of flattery, he adds:
“Endeavor to improve [in your work], but do not want to hear all that every Jack, Tom, and Mary may have to say about it…[Even if] the people should happen to agree with your verdict, it will only feed your pitiful vanity…In any case it is: all about yourself, and this is a poor theme to be anxious about; play the man, and do not demean yourself by seeking compliments like little children when dressed in new clothes, who say, “See my pretty frock.”…Besides, it is a crime to be taken off from your great object of glorifying the Lord Jesus by petty considerations as to your little self, and, if there were no other reason, this ought to weigh much with you.”
What a great reminder for all of us! As much as we may like to be praised in what we’re doing, it’s the Lord who really deserves the credit for any good we do. Of course, none of that is to say we shouldn’t be gracious whenever we hear criticism or praise. Obviously, the point isn’t to be rude and uncharitable when we hear from other people.
Another article I’ve found helpful is titled “The Cross and Criticism,” written by Alfred Poirier. One of the points Poirier makes is, that to whatever degree we are subject to criticism, let us listen to it while keeping a clear view on the message of the Gospel.
The Gospel, of course, reveals that whatever bad things are said about us, God’s judgment against us is a whole lot worse. We haven’t just fallen short of some neighbor’s standards, we’ve fallen short of God’s standards, and that’s a much worse problem. If there’s any truth in the criticism we receive from others we should look into that, but the fact of the matter is what people are saying about us isn’t even the half of it. We fail a lot more than they even realize.
But then the good news about it all is that because of Jesus’s work on the cross, we’ve been forgiven of our shortcomings and accepted on Jesus’s merits not ours. In him, therefore, there is no condemnation! Sure, it’s nice to receive praise from others and to get pats on the back for our accomplishments, but no one else’s praise or acceptance can compare to the acceptance we receive in Christ.
That is a very liberating thing to think about. So, don’t get so caught up in what others are saying. Rather focus on what God has said in the Gospel. That’s what ultimately matters.