When my kid falls off his bike, he looks at me to determine how he should feel about it. If I let out a scream and run toward him, he will start crying. If I say, “Awesome wipeout, dude!” he will give me a thumbs-up. Kids are funny like that, and by funny I mean transparent.
When you have a conversation with someone or give a presentation, don’t you wonder how it went; that is, how you should feel about it? I do: Did I offend that person? Was that sermon any good? Could that meeting have been more effective? Is this counsel helpful? These questions point to my various insecurities, sure, but also to the need we all have for honest feedback.
Of course, every legitimate need has unhealthy extremes. For example, some view a desire for feedback as a sign of weakness, so they compensate with arrogance and control. On the other side of the spectrum, some become enslaved to the opinions of others, or addicted to approval.
To be clear, I am not talking about empty praise or tactless truth, but rather sincere expressions of how people experience us in various situations. One incident does not define us, but multiple perspectives will clarify reality. And that is what we really want: reality — to know the actual effects of our words and actions, and therefore, how we should feel about such things.
A lack of feedback is like solitary confinement. After a while, your thoughts start messing with you. You hear things like: “You are better than them” … “Who cares what people think” … “You’re not any good. You should give up” … “That person doesn’t like you” … “This isn’t worth it.” When you hear these voices, it isn’t always just prideful or fearful self-talk. Sometimes it is spiritual attack, lies from Satan that distort and darken the way we perceive reality. An inner world of isolation and uncertainty is Satan’s playground.
It’s one thing to realize that this is happening to you. More sobering, I think, is to realize that this is happening to people you care about. We are accessory to the crime, but the truth is a light that dispels the darkness and sets the captives free.
In Romans 12, Paul says that one should not think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but with sober judgment. I take that to imply that the opposite is also true, that one should also not think too lowly of himself. The point is to think of yourself in such a way that “how you feel about it” is appropriate to the reality of the situation. Further, this command is not given to an individual, as if anyone could do this on his own. The surrounding text is about the exercise of spiritual gifts for the good of the community. “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We must give and receive honest feedback, even when it is awkward or difficult. Anything less distorts our perception and debilitates the body.
Growing in our ability to give and receive feedback…
Invite. Someone recently asked me if he is a difficult person to talk to. He noticed that people were leaving conversations with him and going to talk to other people. It was an awkward question, and by awkward I mean transparent: humble, courageous, godly transparency.
Speak. Don’t just think things; speak them. And as we speak, we need to think more about honesty in terms of encouraging one another and telling people the truth about how we see God in them. This is woefully lacking in our communities. I sense that if we told people the truth in the positive sense, telling them the truth in the negative sense would not be as difficult.
Learn. Knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it requires discernment, and discernment is not a formula but a skill that is developed through a process of trial and error over time. You’ll need feedback on your feedback.
Relax. We do not need to solve everyone’s problems, nor do we need everyone else to solve our problems. We do not determine people’s worth, nor do they determine ours. We do not know everything there is to know. Not even close. The purpose of feedback is to bring glory to God in our good works, and to magnify the sufficiency of his grace in our weakness.
Believe. Gospel feedback is that, in light of God’s holiness, we are not doing well at all, in any respect. So we must believe that we are helpless on our own. But Jesus lived perfectly on our behalf, and offered himself up as an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Because God is well pleased with his Son, he is also pleased with those who are united with Christ by faith. We have the Father’s approval. This is ultimate reality, and more than anything else, this informs how we should feel about ourselves.