Why do we often respond strongly to criticism? Why are we so concerned with what others think of us? Why is our self-image so bruised by the emotional and spiritual devastation of adversity? John Ortberg discusses these issues in Chapter 10 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted. He labels the tendency to fixate on negative comparisons “approval addiction”.
Henri Nouwen put this problem in perspective in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son:
“At issue here is the question: ‘To whom do I belong? To God or to the world?’ Many of my daily preoccupations suggest that I belong more to the world than to God. A little criticism makes me angry, and a little rejection makes me depressed. A little praise raises my spirits, and a little success excites me. . . . Often I am like a small boat on the ocean, completely at the mercy of its waves.”
Whether our calling to the teaching or pastoral ministry spanned many years or was just beginning to yield it’s first fruits, our ministry position in great part formed our identity. The spiritual, collegial, emotional and material support that daily sustained and blessed us has vanished. We are in a spiritual battle with the forces of darkness. We need to capture our negative thoughts to grow closer in conformity with Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The word of St. John of the Cross encourage us: “In general, the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so . . . . most frequently when it imagines that it is losing.”