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a blog written by Jennifer Lynn

I think most of us can agree that us humans, generally don’t take criticism well. At all. It doesn’t feel good in the moment and it usually causes us to question pretty much everything about ourselves and life in general. Wondering if it’s actually true or not. Or it forces us to do some real soul searching, whether it’s constructive or not.

I remember one time years ago, when I was still married, I signed up for a local singing competition. I had just started to dabble in songwriting at that time and I was singing at the small church we attended. Other than that I had zero experience singing by myself in front of people. But I thought I’d give it a try. My husband and two small children were in the audience. My parents were there and my best friend had even come to visit for the occasion. Because I didn’t have any of my own songs quite yet at that point, I chose to do what most people do. I sang someone else’s song. Not only that, I sang along to an accompaniment track. Yup, that’s right kids. I was one of those people.

*side note: for those of you of the younger persuasion who might be asking yourself, “what in all the worlds is this accompaniment track you speak of?”
Well children, growing up in church, when one was asked to sing a solo, and you weren’t able to play an instrument to accompany yourself or weren’t gifted a full band to play back up, you had to settle for ordering either a cassette tape or a compact disc that had the song on it…without the lead vocals. Because that’s where the soloist would come in. (That would be me in this little story.) I had stacks of accompaniment tracks at home that I would pick from when I was asked to sing a solo in church. Which was often back in those days.

Okay, side note over. Back to the story at hand.

So, anyways, as I was saying. I picked a track from my collection of accompaniment tapes and signed up for the local singing contest. I don’t remember the song but I do remember it was by Jaci Velasquez. As I waited for my turn, I was already sweating and my heart was racing. I was incredibly nervous. I had very little experience singing by myself at that point. The music started and I sang the song. I was so nervous that I wasn’t remembering to breath properly when I was supposed to and it was a very wordy song. When it was finally over it was time for the 3 “judges” to have their say. In front of a live audience!!!

All three judges were “local talent” from the area. I didn’t know who any of them were. What I remember them telling me was that I had a unique voice and a unique way of getting the sound out (umm, thanks?) and also to work on my breathing and stage presence. Needless to say I didn’t win that night. Or make the top three. I wasn’t sure what to expect that night but I was crushed all the same. It was my first time really putting myself out there and although their critiques of me were meant to be constructive, I took them very personally.

The next day was Sunday and I was singing that morning at church with the rest of the band. As we were about to begin run through for that morning, our guest worship leader walked in towards the stage and my heart sank. It was one of the judges from the previous night. Oh great! I thought. Now I have to sing back up for the woman that told me how much I suck and made me feel like a giant loser in front of everyone!

She greeted me, along with the rest of the band and shook my hand. Although she didn’t mention it, she recognized me from the night before and could probably sense my very palpable angst towards her. So, she did what any good church going, passive-egressive Christian woman would do in that moment. During our group prayer time before the service, she very calmly and gracefully (which I interpreted as condescending), asked God to bless our time there together and to remove any feelings of bitterness that might get in the way of our worshiping together as a team. Thanks Lady. I thought to myself. Drive the knife in a little deeper. ‘Preciate it!

Looking back on that experience now, I can just laugh about it. I was so immature back then on pretty much every single level. Not just as a wife and a mother but also in how I received criticism, even if it was meant to be constructive. And I was the one who signed up to be critiqued, in front of a live audience so why was I so offended when that’s exactly what I got?

Fast forward many years later to June 2013 when I auditioned to be apart of the worship team of a church I had just started attending. After my audition part was over, the worship leader I was auditioning for gave the okay for me to join. The reason they gave? “We don’t have anyone that sounds like you.” It meant so much to hear that because I was so self conscious for so long about my abilities as a vocalist. My time spent at that church was not an accident. It was a training ground for me to gain confidence in my own abilities, how to sing with a band, how to back up another vocalist and how to be confident singing in front of a large crowd. Even though over this past year I have just started to really put myself out there, I wouldn’t have even been able to do what I’ve done so far without any of it.

The judges at the singing competition all of those years ago were right. I was too immature to see it then but I see it now. I do have a unique voice, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a positive thing that I don’t blend in. I was never meant to. I did need to gain confidence. I did need to learn how to breathe properly when I sang so that I could do my best. I did need to learn how to own the stage. All of these things were criticisms but they were meant to be constructive. It wasn’t a personal attack on the gifts that God had given to me. They simply needed to be cultivated over time. And they have been and continue to be.

When others are critical, my first natural response can be to get defensive. I have to learn to ask myself where this criticism is coming from. Is it constructive? Is it coming from a place of love or sincerely wanting to see me improve and grow? Or is it coming from a place of being critical for critical sake? It’s important to know the difference so that we can respond accordingly. If someone genuinely cares about you they’ll tell you the truth but it will be because they want to see you do your best, not to be mean or hurtful or to humiliate you.

I’ve gotten better at knowing the difference so that I know when to really listen or when to just let it go in one ear and out the other and not let it bother me. Constructive Criticism is important to our growth on every level. The key though is the “constructive” part. Otherwise we’re just being jerks. And nobody likes that.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this little quote that really kind of boils it down when it comes time to opening our mouths: T.H.I.N.K.! Is it TRUE? Is it HELPFUL? Is it INSPIRING? Is it NECESSARY? Is it KIND?

Now I’m not saying that I have fully mastered this by any means as of yet but I think it is a good tool to use and a reminder that we can all improve on, myself included when it comes to how to tell the difference in whether something is constructive or just plain criticism. Both for when we’re the ones about to open our mouth to someone else, and also for when we’re on the receiving end and we have to decide how to respond. Or sometimes to just let it go and not respond at all. To take it a step further and to not even let it rent space in our heads. Because that part is important too. But that’s a whole other story for another time.