Fatherly-in-Law Advice

“When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?’  Moses answered him, ‘Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me…’

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.’” Exodus 18:14-19

A simple recipe for disaster:

  • 2+ family members
  • 1 part unsolicited advice
  • Combine in a stressful situation.

Viola!  Disaster!

Thankfully, this isn’t how it all came together in our story.  Moses listens to his father-in-law, institutes the changes he recommends, and the judicial process for the Israelites improves.  How did Moses do it?  How was a blow up avoided?  The scriptures tell us that just before this story, Jethro expressed his delight with the deliverance from Egypt and together the two men worshipped God. Also, the book of Numbers proclaims Moses as the most humble man who ever lived (12:3).  Perhaps these things helped the criticism slide past any defensiveness.

How do you take criticism?

How do you evaluate and respond to a critique?

In the early 20th century the outspoken and often controversial journalist H.L. Mencken had a standard response to criticism he received when writing for The Baltimore Sun.  Everyone who sent him a note criticizing or disagreeing with his work would receive a postcard that read:

Dear Sir or Madam:

You may be right.

Yours sincerely,

  1. L. Mencken

This sly response had a way of both validating and dismissing the critic at the same time.  The one sentence both makes room for possibility and shuts the door on further conversation.  While the brief note does quite a lot, one thing it does not do is suggest that Mencken was going to change.

That’s one way of looking at criticism, it’s an invitation to consider making a change.  A critique asks us if we are open to a different perspective, a different way of acting, a different reality.

I wish I could consistently keep such a reasonable perspective when I feel criticized.  More often than I’d like, criticism touches on my fears and insecurities.  Responding from that tender place before acknowledging and dealing with my own insecurities can bring about disaster.

By creating some distance and seeing criticism as an invitation then a few options open up.  We am free to accept or decline the invitation.  Just as one is free to pass on an invitation so is one free to pass on a criticism.  When making this decision we’re encouraged to consider the source of the invitation, the intent of the invitation, and what it will look like if we accept the invitation.

Jethro invited this man of God, his son-in-law, to see and do things in a different way.  Moses accepts and the entire community was blessed because of it.

May all the invitations to change we receive come from a place of love and become blessings for ourselves and others.