It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Ecclesiastes 7, verse 5.
It really stinks to receive criticism You could be a teenager who doesn’t like a class on your schedule and want to drop it but can’t because you failed earlier in high school and they can’t adjust your schedule now to give you what you want. You could get fired from your job no-notice only to realize that you gave them the ammunition to do it. You could have work to do that you really, really don’t want to do because it’s dreadfully dull and not really your responsibility anyway, but said work still needs to be done and there’s nobody else to do it. Or your plane has been delayed a few hours into the night and you find out that they may not fly at all.
The list could – and does – go on.
I appreciate it when people give me the straight scoop; I’m betting you do too. It really stinks to have someone sugar-coat the truth. If you had cancer, would you want the doctor to soft-pedal it, maybe paint a rosier picture than what you’re really faced with? If something terrible happened to someone you love, would you want the real story or would you want to know what’s really happening? Personally, I would much rather know what’s really happening.
Even if it means bad news or news you don’t want to hear. I tell the story of when I was a junior airman stationed in Maryland. I had been in the service for several years and while I was a good performer, I wasn’t the best of the best. Still, I wanted to win one of the quarterly awards that the wing awarded for exemplary performance. Sure, some units gave them out as trinkets for favored members, but most were on the up and up. I went to our NCO in charge and asked why I hadn’t ever been submitted for one. For someone to whom achievement seemed to come easily, it was tough to hear the truth. The NCOIC told me “because you aren’t Airman of the Quarter material.” He didn’t mean it in an unkind way: he was simply being honest. I hadn’t really done anything exceptional other than my job, and I hadn’t done anything to really merit special recognition.
It was the first time I recall that someone had really leveled with me. I had always been a top student and a good worker; I knew what it was to earn accolades. I was used to receiving praise and adulation, and it felt odd to not have it flowing down on me. To tell you the truth now, I had forgotten how to do better; I was simply cruising along and expecting someone to praise me for it. To tell you the truth now it was a valuable and healthy lesson. The experience caused me to ratchet up my performance and really start playing my A-game in ways I hadn’t before. The experience also caused me to ponder humility. I don’t think “humble” is a word used to describe me very often, but you can’t have someone rebuke you, take it to heart, and not come away feeling a bit of healthy humility.
And it was all because I was fortunate that a wise man had rebuked me and God helped me see the sense enough to not act like a fool about it.
Have you ever had someone tell you something you don’t want to hear? It hurts. It really hurts. What that hurt comes around, though, I think a platitude comes in handy: God never gives you more than you can bear. It hurts when good medicine cures a sickness; it hurts to have a wound scoured out. What helps, though, is when the wound is clean and the healing can begin. Grace heals all wounds whether they are physical or emotional. A few moments of realizing God’s grace give me the strength enough to endure far past what used to be my breaking point used to be.
The fool won’t let this happen. A fool will keep denying that a problem exists or that he doesn’t deserve rebuke. A fool will keep acting like nothing is wrong when, just beneath the surface, conflict is boiling. Other fools sing sweetly. That siren song is tempting, very alluring, quite attractive. In my experience, it’s usually either flattering or has an edge of anger. What happens when you listen to that song? You know.
Over time, I won those quarterly awards in other units and for work that I’m still very proud of today. One quarter I won at the unit, squadron, group and wing levels for leading a team in fixing a badly dysfunctional system upgrade. Those things happened because I learned to appreciate the moments of grace, even when I didn’t recognize what they were. I learned that one man’s actions are usually the culmination of others’ contribution, and that the best leaders are those who lead from the front while being willing to pitch in anywhere. In the private sector, those kinds of awards are different. I’ve been blessed to work with great responsibility with even greater teams. Part of working on a team is realizing that you are one, not the whole team, and that others are where they are because they’ve usually won the right to be there.
And sometimes grace flows down. When it does, you see there are moments of serendipity, like when you find you enjoy the class that you were just so sure you would hate. Or when you find that the job you left behind was worth leaving behind because the new one is much better anyway. And there are the times when you finish working and are blessed to realize that you really did good work after all whether somebody notices or not. And, believe it or not, sometimes you find yourself on a night flight to Minneapolis where you’re the only one on board and they treat you like a king. When you’re walking in God’s grace, you’re unburdened, free to do your best no matter whether you’re up for an award or not. Sometimes, you’re blessed to learn that those moments of grace are some of the best moments of all.