I had a strange moment before church yesterday. A person decided he needed to tell me a few things about what I should be doing at the church. Next he shared what he thought of my sermons thus far. Finally he added that he did not know why I had not contacted him yet for help. He then looked at me and said, "don't cry."
Just then, the service began. I tried not to burst into tears and bolt from the building into the streets of the city of New Orleans. I tried to think about the situation logically. I have tried to put aside my ego and feelings and listen to what this person was sharing with me. Frankly, I am really ticked off.
I am ticked off because this was an attack. I realize that now. I am ticked off with myself because I did not call him on it right then and there. Instead, I let him offer his helpful two cents, and I barely made it through the service. I questioned every move I made throughout the service, and throughout the last month at the church, and I realized he was wrong. He was just attacking me.
I find it can be a very fine line between being willing to hear constructive criticism and being open to an attack. One might say you should not listen to people who do not care about you, but I think that we still need to be willing to listen to what someone has to say. The information might not be helpful, but it might be useful.
That might sound strange, but this is how I distinguish between the two. Helpful information is letting you know that you have spinach in your teeth and handing you a toothbrush. The person who shares the helpful information cares about you and wants you to succeed. He or she does not force their opinions or ideas on you, he or she asks first. You know that the information comes from a kind and loving place. Non helpful but useful information is letting you know that you look terrible. This type of information tells you more about the giver of information. He or she is coming from a place of hostility, but he or she is using a piece of useful data to express that hostility. It might not hurt to look in the mirror and check.
Still, I can be as logical and understanding about yesterday morning's attack, but I was attacked. My feelings are hurt. I have looked in the mirror, and I realize it was not helpful information. I believe that many of us open ourselves up, and allow others to offer their "helpful" advice. Perhaps because we believe that person really has something important to teach us or we want to be easy going or we feel unsure. We might even think that everyone wants to help us, so we need to listen, right? Well, we can listen, but we do not have to accept it. We do not have to accept being attacked.
We absolutely should seek help and advice, but that is point, isn't it? We need to seek the help and advice we need. That is up to us, and it is not someone else's responsibility to "set us straight" or "teach us the ropes."
So, my work is cut out for me. I have parishioners to visit and call. I have a sermon to write, translate and check. I also have a conversation that needs to happen- after church. Maybe the most important part is I need to stay open, willing to learn from others and listen, but remembering the difference between helpful and useful information.