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Thick Skin

I keep waiting for my skin to get thicker. I mean, I'm 41 and 1/2 years old. I should have enough confidence in myself by now to prevent criticism from bothering me. But I don't. No matter what people criticize—my work, my parenting, my hair, my driving, my marriage—their harsh words hit me in the gut.

I don't know many women who do handle criticism well. Most of my male friends seem able to let it roll off them. We women, however, tend not only to bristle under it, but to actually snatch criticism out of the most benign encounters. Some of us are so sensitive, we find critical comments even when they aren't there.

When my mom visits my house and starts cleaning before she's unpacked her suitcase, I assume she disapproves of my housekeeping skills. When my husband reminds me I still haven't made the doctor's appointment for our son that I promised to schedule three weeks ago, I hear him say I'm failing as a mom. And when I look in the mirror and see that I continue to provide a comfy home for the Flab family, I wonder why I even bother to exercise.

Much of this insecurity arises from a deep-seated belief that my worth comes from what I do, because what I do defines who I am. Christian women face pressure not only to be perfect as women—juggling jobs and mortgages and relationships and, and, and—but also to be perfect as Christians. And sadly, Christian culture often reinforces the message that we are what we do.

Once, when I edited a Christian parenting magazine, I received a letter from a reader upset that I'd written about the difficulties of managing life as a working mom. She scolded me rather ungraciously for neglecting my children just so I could have a big house and a glam car (I had neither, by the way). She told me to read my Bible and get right with God because I clearly wasn't living the way a Christian woman should. She didn't know me, but after reading fewer than 200 words about me, she determined I was inadequate as a woman, a mother, and a Christian.

Most of us have similar experiences—someone slams our beliefs or body, and we can't let the critique go. It might come at the hands of a boss who dresses us down in a meeting, or in the form of a painful breakup that betrays our trust in a loved one, or through the words of a total stranger who questions one of our decisions. No matter where it originates or how off-base it may be, criticism worms its way in and lays little eggs of doubt and shame in our souls.

Thankfully, I'm starting to realize my worth doesn't come from motherhood or marriage or career or housework. It doesn't come from achieving a flat stomach (thank goodness!) or having great friends or gaining anyone's approval. It comes from my Creator.

When I feel myself collapsing under the weight of criticism—both real and imagined—I find comfort in the words of the Psalmist, who'd been on the wrong end of strong words a time or two. He writes:

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:11-16)

Whether I'm facing a boss's disappointing evaluation, a friend's reproachful expression, or my mother's scrub brush, I need to remind myself that criticism may hit me hard, but it can never destroy the goodness and beauty God knit into me when I was created. God thinks I'm wonderful—and God's the One who defines me.

How do you handle criticism? Why do you think it's a struggle for many women? How can we encourage one another in the face of criticism? And how can we offer our advice and opinions in ways others can hear and accept?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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