I have been reprimanded several times lately, by different individuals. Even though not all were harshly delivered, they took me by surprise and bit into my fragile ego. I instantly felt like an eight year old, caught with my hand in the cookie jar. I’m a grandma for goodness sake! Shouldn’t I be past the age of getting scolded?
Each time it happened I had to process how I would respond. I could let it grow and fester into an angry fire of resentment. I could dwell on the scenario until it grew all out of proportion. Or, as I often do, I could let it bully me into a simpering heap. But I decided I wanted to let God use these words from others to help me grow and mature.
I want to be moldable in my Savior’s hands. The phrase “stiff-necked” is used In the New International Version of the Bible to describe people who refuse to follow God’s instructions. I never understood this expression until I had children. The first time my sweet baby girl got in trouble her body went rigid and she stiffened her neck in defiance of the impending discipline. Ah, so that’s what it looks like I nodded.
The Father sums up our propensity to resist correction: “…they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline” (Jeremiah 17:23). Not every biting or sarcastic comment is a message we need to hear, but sometimes they have a nugget of truth; even more so, loving words of correction from those who know us.
My hope in the midst of unasked for rebuke is that in Christ I can become better. I’m not who I was yesterday, and tomorrow I will not be who I am today. I am constantly being made into the likeness of my Savior—an admittedly painful process—like coal under intense heat and pressure on its way to becoming a diamond.
Usually my first response when chastised is to defend myself and make excuses, either mentally or verbally. If the reproof is unkind I want to discount it as invalid. But it doesn’t matter how the reprimand comes—with loving intent or in a backhanded verbal assault. It doesn’t even matter who delivers the reprimand, whether they know me, or understand my motives. All that matters is what I do with what I hear.
So, still bleeding a little, I limped to God in prayer and poured out my heart. I told Jesus what they said, which He already knew, and how much it hurt, which He already knew. And He helped me sift past my humiliation to find the truth:
- What did I need to hear in what they said? (Have I been self-absorbed, prideful, ungrateful, annoying?)
- What do I know about the speaker? (Are they mature, wise, under pressure, worried, in pain, discerning?)
- What is true about my Savior? (Is He bigger than my big mouth, more faithful than any friend, forgiving and gracious, kind and merciful, able to create beauty from ashes and diamonds from coal? Can He effect change in me even now?)
The book of Proverbs is full of warnings about what happens when we refuse to listen to Wisdom’s rebuke, and the blessings that come when we do. There is no age limit on spiritual growth. We all need an occasional “talking to” when we fail to recognize our own destructive habits, skewed beliefs, or dishonoring behavior. It’s easier to accept a rebuff when the wounds come from a friend, but God can even use the words of a stranger to speak to us when we need to hear it.
I’m not volunteering for more, mind you. But after mulling things over, I am grateful for these opportunities to trust God again with my heart. He never fails to use the hurtful things in life for good.
Beth Vice is a wife, author, speaker, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, and Jesus seeker. She loves taking care of her husband Kelly and the home they share on the Oregon coast. She teaches their Sunday morning small group and leads critique workshops at Oregon Christian Writers conferences, where she serves as the In-Person Critique Group Coordinator. Beth has six books currently available and is working on the next two—a divorce recovery book for women and a Bible study on Revelation. Beth has a heart for women; she has found new delight in leading retreats at she and Kelly’s vacation rental at Black Butte Ranch, and wherever else God might lead her. She blogs at Epiphany: http://www.bethvice.com/. Beth loves getting outside for hikes and gardening, but prefers snuggling inside with a good book or coffee with a friend, in nasty weather.