There’s a saying that “It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine.” It comes from the Old Testament book, “Song of Songs.”
It got me to thinking, “Do foxes even eat grapes? Aren’t they carnivores?” So, now curious, I did some research.
I discovered that foxes eat what you might expect: small animals, birds, reptiles, some insects. But they also eat acorns, tubers, grains, grasses, and even fungi. Although red foxes enjoy vegetation, in the autumn especially, they prefer to eat fruits. Cherry, persimmon, blueberry, plum, apple, and raspberry are some of their favorites. Oh, and grapes.
One grape, or a few grapes eaten, will not harm the vine. But, over time, these little grape robbers can kill off a perfectly healthy vine. I haven’t really thought lately about what Solomon had in mind when he wrote this phrase. But, I thought, “Who or what are the ‘foxes’ that we encounter that rob us of our life-giving vine — our peace, our joy, or our enthusiasm?”
I believe that at least some of the foxes are those who bring us constant criticism. All of us have already faced criticism from co-workers, friends, family, bosses, coaches, teachers, and the like. And believe it or not, pastors and priests even encounter criticism from our own “little foxes” — fellow Christians. In our youth especially, as young idealists, we often think that Christians are different and when some are not, it stings.
A few critics or criticisms are not so bad. But like the little fox, they can, over time, pile up and overwhelm us. And this is where, if we allow it, the little foxes can wreck our vine.
I have been in ministry for fifty years, with forty-three of those years serving as a pastor. The other years found me in some form of associate pastoral ministry. I have had more than my share of criticism. Some of it devastating.
In my early years, the criticism crushed me. I doubted my calling. I was certain I missed God. Twice in my career, I seriously considered leaving the ministry altogether because some of those “little foxes” — those church members — were brutally critical. Seminary does not prepare you for this.
But, over time and with the help of wise people, I learned that when we place our focus on a few negatives, it injures everyone.
• We cater to them.
• Try to appease them.
• Worry about them.
• Ultimately, we neglect the greater good.
In the end, here’s the strange part I’ve seen — we usually find out nothing we could have said or done would have made them happy anyway.
Negative people are often negative for reasons other than something you did. They are hurting because, if they are always negative, with everything and everybody, something in them is broken. You cannot let them break you.
Of course, we need to care about them, pray for them, and help them as we can. But when we let their negativity control us everyone loses. Only God can fix broken people and those broken people must want to not continue to be broken.
The bottom line is this: catering to the foxes drains your energy and your internal valuable resources as a person. And it keeps you from investing fully in people who believe in you, support you and are ready to help you build a great life.
So, we must stop being dominated by a few negative voices. And in most cases, it’s almost always a few people who are critical unless you have screwed up big time. There are exceptions, but that is, at least in my world, it’s the general truth.
I’m not afraid of criticism. I do believe we just have to be careful to filter the criticism in a healthy way.
There are two types of criticism: There is justified criticism. If the criticism is justified, we need to make adjustments in the way we think, act, behave, or do things. There is also unjustified criticism. You may not have to change but remember this: Whether justified or unjustified, God allowed it to come to you and you need to decide why and how you are to respond.
The fact is some people will never be on board with you and you can’t do anything about that. But sometimes they might represent a larger audience and, if the criticism is justified, a bit of humility and advice seeking may be in order.
Foxes will always go after grapes and those who criticize will always be looking for targets. Don’t let the grape robbers succeed in robbing you. We can’t control what they say but we can control how we respond. My best advice is, if the criticism is unjustified, ignore it and keep moving forward.
And if you are a grape robber — get some help. Your own brokenness is on display and it’s not attractive. You can be a better person.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at email@example.com.]