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If you're getting criticized ...

Criticism can destroy us in so many ways.

First, it can overwhelm us. We can side with the criticism and let it fuel a kind of self-hatred in us. A house divided against itself can't stand, and when we let criticism turn us into our own enemies, we will soon become discouraged, depressed, and paralyzed.

Second, it can harden us. We can respond to it with defensiveness and in so doing become arrogant, mean-spirited, reactive, and closed to needed correction.

Third, it can sour us. We can respond to criticism with criticism, becoming aggressive rather than defensive, and soon we're doing to others exactly as they have done to us. That's not the Golden Rule!

Fourth, it can frighten us. We stop taking risks. We start playing to "the fear of man," which, the Proverb says, "brings a snare."

Criticism can also mature us in so many ways.

First, it can correct us. There's often truth in what the critic sees about us or our work, even though he or she may express it crudely. We're wise indeed if we can let the harsh chaff go, and still receive the grain of truth.

Second, even where it's unfair and inaccurate, criticism can teach us. It can help us understand the fears, biases, assumptions, and issues that animate our critics. If we want to get our message through in the future, we'll need to better understand those with whom we seek to communicate.

Third, it can sweeten us rather than sour us. We can grow to a place where we actually love our enemies, where we see behind the fault to a need, and we can seek to meet the need rather than focus on the fault. In short, we can become more Christ-like, since Jesus, "when he was reviled, did not revile in return."

There's much more that could be said, but I think you'll see it all for yourself in this powerful prayer by a Serbian Orthodox bishop. This resource has helped me more than any other single thing to hold criticism "up to the light" and process it in God's presence. Each time a new book comes out and I begin to prepare myself for a new round of critical response, this prayer becomes important to me in new and deeper ways. I've heard from some discouraged friends lately, so it seemed good to share it again. (after the jump)


Prayer Regarding Critics and Enemies by Serbian Orthodox Bishop

By Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic, Serbian bishop who spoke out against Naziism, was arrested, and taken to Dachau.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth; enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a [fly].

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

So that my fleeing will have no return; So that all my hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; So that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; So that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
So that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; Ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.