We’ve all experienced giving and receiving feedback in just about every way possible, from the mean and hurtful to the complimentary and life-giving. But despite the wide sweeping spectrum we’ve received feedback on in its many forms, part of our biggest means to find growth will lie in the importance and value we place on it. Let’s start with what scripture has to say: (Proverbs 15:31) “If you listen to constructive criticism, you’ll be at home among the wise.” So in order to grow in wisdom, we must learn to receive feedback from others. As you think about the topic of feedback, what emotions come up for you? When we think about the topic of receiving feedback from others, most of us were raised all along the spectrum between severe and painful experiences of feedback as well as having pivotal moments of accomplishment or pride in a strength or feat that someone we love or trust called out to affirm.
So why is feedback actually important for us? And what’s the payoff? Well, feedback, when done well, can actually produce growth and fruit in our lives. As imperfect people, it’s one of the easiest ways for us to grow, because when we can understand how others experience us or how we show up, we can then begin to see areas we need to grow we couldn’t have prior. We can all think of examples of how people have heard feedback but chosen not to listen to it, or made poor decisions with no value or place for feedback, often ruining their lives or the lives of their loved ones in the process. Maybe it’s the alcoholic parent who can’t see how they’re affecting their children. Maybe it’s the self-centered Aunt who dominates conversation and makes everything about her. Or maybe it’s the crass critical coworker who’s a character assassin for any other coworker that’s not in the room. Maybe you’ve experienced situations or people like this throughout your life. Oftentimes we don’t give feedback because it either feels too scary or we simply don’t think the person it’s intended for would receive it. But the thought of being able to securely and humbly receive feedback and grow, as well as giving it constructively, creates enormous opportunity. One Biblical example of this would be Paul and Mark, whom Barnabas had to encourage and build back up after Paul mentored and had some harsh feedback for. Another example would be Moses who confronted Aaron after a stint on the mountain with God and the idolatry he allowed to enter into his community and culture. And lastly, if it wasn’t for Nathan confronting David, does he ever come to a place of conviction for what he’d done? Feedback is vital to live healthy lives.
Now, there is another side to this coin. And that other side of that coin is actually about us. Could there be blind spots in our own lives? Could there be areas we need to grow but can’t see without feedback? Part of the beauty of the Christian life is that we can choose to hold a core value that within faith and relationship to God, we can grow and become more than we are now. Why is growth the goal? Because as Christians, our call is to continue moving forward in Christlikeness – following Jesus and emulating him. Still water stagnates, a person not moving in personal maturation or growth, is actually moving backwards. We’re either moving forward, or we’re drifting away from God. It’s impossible to remain stationary and find growth. There’s always room to grow. The problem with growth however, is that it’s often accompanied by pain or uncomfortableness. The hard truth, aside from pain sometimes needing to be present to grow, is that God also isn’t opposed to allowing discomfort for our growth. The Israelites in the desert who were incredibly out of their comfort zone; so much so they even found their prior slavery more attractive at times. In fact, you can search scripture time and again for how God will use (not cause) discomfort or pain to produce something greater than ourselves, or even prepare us for the tasks ahead, to be ready for what can seem impossible. Romans 8:28 says, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This means that even difficulty will produce good in us if we are following after God’s will for our lives.
Feedback is wonderful when it’s truthful and helpful and we can actually receive it and hear it, but it’s hard when we can’t apply it and don’t internalize it. Imagine attending school without receiving any feedback. Kids wouldn’t even know if they’re getting something right or wrong – no feedback would mean no intellectual growth. What about a corporation? If the company doesn’t get feedback from their customers, how would they know that they are meeting a need? How would they know how to improve their product? How would the employees and staff within those companies know how to improve company culture? If they can’t apply the feedback they receive, they don’t get better. As Christians who hope to become more Spirit-filled, peaceful, kind, patient, life-giving people, we must learn to receive and act on feedback. That feedback may come from God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, a family member, friend or stranger, but in many ways we can only be self-aware, to the degree that we allow ourselves to be. We must be looking for change and improvement. Are you willing to grow in your understanding of how others experience you, or be receptive to ideas or opportunities presented that will lead to positive life adjustments?
My grandfather always used to tell me, “Grandson, your life is not your own. Those in your life that love you and care about you, those that are connected to you are also affected by your decisions and choices in life. Your decisions are never entirely your own.” We often hear others say, “It’s my life, it’s my decisions. I can do what I want to.” But your decisions rarely just affect yourself. Understanding how others see us or experience us is significant, not only because the least self-aware people on the planet are some of the hardest to be around (and I don’t want to be that person), but also because understanding how others experience us helps us grow as people. Sometimes I can’t see outside of a situation I’m in the middle of and our own level of wisdom is extremely limited. That’s why God calls us to be a part of his community and connected to other Christ-followers. We need the help of trusted and loving people to fill that space our own wisdom or life experiences has yet to reach. Hearing friends or loved ones tell me that I’ve acted selfishly or that I’ve made poor decisions has helped me in unimaginable ways. They have been a means to get past the roadblocks and barriers life often throws in our way.
For me the biggest breakthrough of valuing feedback came in my early 20’s. I had a roommate that chose to bravely give me the feedback I needed. And like many times familiarly before, I felt pain, but for whatever reason this time I chose to take it to God in prayer. And there God was. He confirmed that it was legitimate and also something he wanted to work on with me. And it can be simplified down to a decision to simply receive that feedback. I was ready and willing to listen. With just one choice that day, it was my first time choosing to press into hard feedback and face it head on. Despite not knowing exactly what to do with it at the time, I knew trying to understand it and taking it to God was my first step. However, this isn’t a green light to blindly believe every piece of feedback anyone gives you. At times people will operate out of their own projections, brokenness, frustrations, or insecurities. In clarity, I’m referring to the feedback primarily given by those you love and trust the most. But, even in poorly communicated feedback, we must learn how to listen, regardless of poor packaging or delivery. When we take that feedback to the Lord, he can clarify whether it’s something we need to address or forget. My hope is that we become a people that can sift through any form of feedback to see what’s really being said or being called out in us. Before accepting anything, we should always take it to God for discernment, and turn to our trusted community to find validity or falsity in what’s being highlighted.
American minister and author, Vincent Norman Peale, said this, “The trouble with most of us is we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” What a true, but indicting statement. I believe the hardest part of feedback is choosing to move past the pain or negative experiences of it from our past. For me personally, a complete shift happened that day when I chose to be willing to receive feedback from my roommate. The more I chose to be open to and receive it, the more I heard, and the more aware I became of how I showed up or how others experienced me. I could begin to see others’ pain and what they were saying or what they were highlighting that I could improve upon or be sensitive to. Winston Churchill said this, “Criticism is not agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
“Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” –Proverbs 12:15
Feedback pushes us on two fronts: the desire as people to learn and grow; and the second being the need to be affirmed, and accepted, and loved in what you do or who you are. In other words, feedback both affirms and coaches. The greatest model of this was Jesus Christ. Who exemplifies what it means to love us fully as we are right now, but simultaneously calls us to more.
I believed for so long that because feedback hurt or stung when I received it that it must not be good, or life-giving, or beneficial to me. But I’ve come to understand that pride shouldn’t get in the way of progress. Just because feedback can be something unpleasant doesn’t mean that it’s not also good, or automatically not of God. When we invite and receive feedback, we don’t just accelerate personal or professional growth, but also spiritual growth. The foundation of Christianity was designed to be walked out within the context of community, and within that, relationships that allow us to hear and receive feedback to grow in Christlikeness. Community shouldn’t just help us survive or even thrive practically in difficult times, it should also be our springboard into what God has for us as a people and for our lives in partnership with him.