Grace or criticism?
I have contemplated grace and its place in my life for many years now. I have wondered at its significance, its practical purpose. I have tried to make sense of it. Tried to understand it. And the only way I know how is to put it into the context of my own lived experience. To make sense of it through the circumstances I find myself in on a daily basis.
For me, grace is a strand of love. For love is everything that is good in this world. And since grace is good, it is a strand of love. How I describe grace is in this way: doing willingly for others what wouldn’t come natural. Or put another way, offering love even when I don’t feel like offering it.
Grace is second and third chances.
Grace is endless, actually. I cannot even fathom it. It’s depths and heights. When I think of the grace I have been offered, I am compelled to consider offering such to those I interact with. When I feel like being gracious and even when I don’t.
Criticism, on the other hand, is something which comes quite easily. I have also contemplated its significance in my life and come to discover that criticism, unlike grace, is quite quick to be offered. It is something I could offer without putting too much thought into how I might frame it or place it in context. I can criticize without any premeditated deliberation or contemplation. It easy. And quite natural, I’m afraid. Critiquing, as a branch of criticism, is not so severe a practice. Critiquing requires deliberation and restraint. And it is a discipline. I have learned through many years of watching and listening that careful critique, unlike criticism, can shape us and mold us through it’s wise counsel and influence. One who has learned to critique has also learned to listen and to see. To understand the many angles of a situation.
When to use grace? Criticism? Critique?
If love is in all and through all, and grace is a strand of love, then I believe that grace must be exercised liberally in all of life’s various circumstances and situations. Grace is the open door to reconciliation. It is the pathway toward forgiveness. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the salve for the open wound. And so then: love is both the beginning and the end of everything. It is the Healer’s gentle touch. The Hands that hold.
Growing up in a very fundamentalist environment, I didn’t always see grace. I felt the sting of criticism and the pain of disapproval. But rarely did I feel the freedom of grace. The liberty of love expressed in compassion. But it was there just the same, although often hidden. Not seen in the obvious but through the obscure.
True, there was much criticism, and that is what I remember. But in time, I came to realize that grace had greater influence than the spirit of criticism. Grace had farther fields of influence. And grace could do what critical could not. It could soothe. Heal. Relate. Love. Affect. Grace had powers and strength that critical did not. And grace could do all this in and through the abiding constancy of love. Criticism often worked under the influence of hate. It was only when criticism came under the spell of love that it changed. No longer criticism, it became critique. And as long as critique stayed within the realm of love, it was pure and true. It had the steady influence of a constant to guide it.
My constant is love. The tool to project that love is grace. And I can thus critique under the watchful eye of these two powerful forces.
I no longer wish to have my life marked by criticism. I was checked on such today, offhandedly, when a colleague shared a story and added this detail: “You know, I had preformed an opinion about so-and-so based on what everybody else was saying, but that wasn’t really a true picture of what ____ was like with me when I had a chance to talk one on one.” Which gave me pause to reflect on how too often I judge and criticize others based on an opinion I’ve already heard from someone else. Based on second and third hand information. How incredibly unfair.
Where criticism really stings is when it is directed at destruction. Again, criticism is not evil. But when it originates in hate, it has the power to destroy. To cut down and to damage. To ruin and defeat. To expose and annihilate. To devastate those at whom it is directed. Criticism is powerful. And one has only to listen to one human being tell their story to understand the power of criticism to shape a life.
I am still receiving letters from readers who read the essay “What Students Remember Most About Teachers.” I want to include a link to my most recent letter. There are parts of it that break my heart, for it speaks of the power of criticism to hurt and wound. I am still considering how I will respond to this letter. I am saddened that teachers have wreaked such havoc on a life. And that an adult is still captive to the memories of that influence.
I wish this writer to know: I care. I cannot fix or mend. But I can care.
I haven’t yet formulated what words I will write to this dear one, but this I will seek to do, through the grace that I have first received and experienced in my own life. And that is to write that response in love. With a heart overflowing.
In a wash of grace extended outward.