After posting about the incident of one lady who criticized my appearance, another situation came to mind. Except that in this story, it was I who criticized someone else.
My children had been attending a Bible club for nearly a year. Over the course of the past several weeks I had observed that one of the teenage helpers was consistently wearing very low blouses. Her cleavage didn’t just show when she bent over–it showed all the time. This concerned me. Here my kids are supposed to be learning from the Bible and memorizing Scripture, and this is the sort of example set before them. I wondered what to do. It worried me how not only my children, but the other children as well might be affected by the inconsistency of teaching the Bible and good morals on the one hand, and modeling immodesty (and looseness?) on the other hand. Surely I should say something; but what?
Things were complicated by the fact that I barely knew this girl, and rarely had a chance to talk to her. Our family didn’t attend this church, even though our children enjoyed going to their Bible club. Yet I would see her when I dropped my children off and when I returned to pick them up. I had nothing personal against her, so I didn’t want to seem like I was picking on her. I finally decided, after much consideration, that the best way to deal with this concern was to call the lady in charge of the Bible club. I assumed she would understand and would know how to resolve this issue.
It came as quite a surprise to me then, when the lady in charge was much offended when I called her about this. It didn’t help that the girl in question was her daughter-in-law. However, I had hoped that she would be a bit more rational. Even though I tried to be tactful, she seemed to regard my phone call as an insult and an attack. Did she think I had called her just to gossip about and judge this girl? It had taken a lot of emotional effort to even pick up the phone, much less form the words to verbalize my concern–and she was getting all defensive with me? She even passed the phone to her husband (who was the other one in charge of the Bible club), as if I was “too much to handle” and he treated me the same way. I wanted to cry. Here I had wanted to manage this situation in a way that wouldn’t get people’s feelings hurt, and I was being talked to like I had brought this up just to incite problems. How did I deserve this?
A month later, after confirming that no action would be taken because they didn’t consider any action needed to take place, I pulled my children out of their program, and placed them in another Bible club at a different church, which happened to work out better since it was nearer to our home. I haven’t regretted it. Looking back at the events that occasioned the move, I don’t regret that phone call, either. I continue to believe that the way I handled things was, after all, the best approach in that situation.
In my previous post about a conversation I had with my former pastor’s wife regarding a certain lady who disapproved of my apparel, I lamented the fact that the lady had never come to me with her concerns. Might I have done the same in this other situation? Might I have talked to the girl privately? Actually, the situation was not the same, so I don’t think that would have been appropriate: 1) I didn’t know this girl and had very little chance of getting to know her, but the lady at my former church saw me every Sunday and had a greater chance of knowing me, if she had wanted; 2) That girl was a teenage helper, and not a mature adult, and I didn’t want to be seen as “picking on” someone smaller than me, whereas in the other case I was an adult teacher who was married and had three children, and was probably more capable of discussing sensitive concerns with another adult. However, I don’t entirely disagree with the way the lady at my former church approached the pastor and his wife instead of talking directly to me. Because, her intent was (mostly) not to pick on an individual but to improve the overall Bible program, in the interest of the children. And I agree with that. One thing I don’t agree with is that the pastor’s wife felt it necessary to tell me. If she had not been specific about who it was who had voiced concern, I would have been none the worse, and would have been spared the pain of knowing how much of a disappointment I had been to the other lady. I think that speaking to someone in authority about her concerns may have been the right thing to do in that situation, similar to how I chose to handle things later in this different situation.
What surprised me about the “girl with a low blouse” problem was the way things backfired. So, I can’t voice a concern? I can’t talk to the leaders of a program in which my children are involved about a way I’d like to see the program improve? If I have a genuine worry, I can’t tell them about it? I don’t get it.
It seems the crux of the issue was not that I had a concern, but that I had a concern which indirectly touched on a heart issue the woman in charge had herself. Because she was not willing to address the issue of immodesty in her own life (though I said nothing to her about her personal appearance), neither was she willing to consider the issue of immodesty in anyone else’s life, because that would implicate her as well. I don’t think that her defensiveness came so much from wanting to protect the girl in question, as it did from an unconscious desire to rid herself of blame and escape scrutiny, the scrutiny of God’s word. She might have employed a simple solution: have all the teachers and helpers wear a uniform (it could have been a $5 T-shirt), and have a meeting in which she and her husband address all the volunteers at once to clarify that everybody needs to come dressed modestly. It wouldn’t have had to be something directed at one person; it could have been something involving everybody in general, in order to avoid hurt feelings. Why couldn’t she have done things that way?
The difference between that lady and myself, is that when I realized that someone had an issue with my dress, I was saddened, yes, but I was also willing to look at the issue biblically and logically. I was willing to change. But, the way that she responded to my straightforward complaint showed a lack of humility.
How can we do things better?
We can listen to others when they have a criticism to share. No matter how painful we anticipate it to be, we can choose to view the confrontation as an opportunity to expand our understanding of others, and to learn from their unique perspective.
We can choose to view things rationally instead of emotionally. Our first question should not be “Why is this person (supposedly) attacking me?” Rather, we should ask ourselves: “What is the problem that needs to be fixed?”, “What does the Bible have to say about this?”, and “Is there something I need to change here?”
Finally, we can show grace towards other people even if they are wrong about us. From my own experience, I can tell you this is very hard to do, so I sympathize with how difficult it is to accept a criticism that we deem unfair. Let me emphasize the importance of good communication. Sometimes all it takes to clear up a misunderstanding is to have a good talk about it. Afterwards, the other person may admit that they were rash in their judgment. However, might there be a grain of truth even in their hasty assumption? If we’re humble, we’ll be open to analyzing our own behavior and willing to apologize for anything we have done wrong. And for the things we have not done wrong, we can be loving enough to extend patience and kindness, trusting in God that He will show them what they need to understand, and hoping that our positive attitude will influence them to reconsider their reactions.