Be open to receiving instruction.
Bathsheba has taken over her late uncle’s large farm estate, and is running it with precision and skill. While getting used to her new community, she makes the acquaintance of her new neighbor, the slightly older and very wealthy bachelor Mr. Boldwood. However, their first meeting is somewhat cold at best, and Bathsheba judges him to be an arrogant, removed sort of man. But when she and her handmaid, Liddy, decide to send him a Valentine’s Day card as a prank, Mr. Boldwood takes it seriously and invites Bathsheba over to his home to propose to her. Flustered, she tells him that she won’t marry him. However, when he shows her the card she sent, and cites it as his reason for proposing, she feels guilty and tells him she needs time to consider the proposal. As she comes home, she sees her handsome sheep farmer (and the first man to propose to her) Mr. Oak, working late in the workshop sharpening his shears.
Criticism, Counsel, Wisdom, Humility, Instruction
Bathsheba stands inside with Mr. Oak, trying her hand at grinding the sheep shears. In a quiet moment, she turns and asks him if the men of the farm have said anything about her relationship with Mr. Boldwood. He tells her that they all expect her to be married to him before the year ends. She asks him to tell them they’re all wrong, but Mr. Oak refuses, saying that if Mr. Boldwood did call on her to talk about marriage he won’t make up something that isn’t true just to please her. Bathsheba grows visibly frustrated with this, and asks him again to tell the men that she may not actually be marrying him, in case that’s what they’re expecting. He acquiesces to this, but then tells her that he could offer his opinion on her actions instead. Indignant, Bathsheba tells him that she wants nothing to do with his opinion, but quickly realizes that she’s not content to leave the conversation where it sits. “Well, what is your opinion?” she finally asks him. “That you’re greatly to blame for playing pranks on a man like Mr. Boldwood,” he says simply, “Your actions were unworthy of you.” “Unworthy?” she responds, almost resentfully, “May I ask where my unworthiness lies?” She suggests he’s only jealous, since he once proposed to her a few months ago, and she rejected his offer too. But he assures her that he’s given up his feelings for her, and again states that she shouldn’t have led on Mr. Boldwood if she didn’t really care for him. Bathsheba huffs, and looks to be nearly in tears. However, she gathers her composure, and is suddenly very cold to Mr. Oak, “I cannot allow a man to criticize my private conduct. You will please leave the farm at the end of the week.” This catches his attention, and turns fully towards her, shocked, and then angry. “I’d prefer to go at once,” he shoots back, throwing down his shears and taking off his apron. Bathsheba still looks upset, but holds to her decision, saying, “Then go, I never want to see your face again.” Mr. Oak storms out, but we only see Bathsheba’s face: she’s near tears, already regretting her rash decision, but too proud to turn around and apologize.
Everyone makes stupid decisions; it’s a part of growing up and being human. However, having the wisdom to recognize when you’ve made a mistake and the ability to hear it pointed out by another person is one of the greatest marks of maturity a person can own. Bathsheba’s reaction to Mr. Oak’s opinion (that she asked for) is a perfect example of how not to respond to criticism. She hears him tell her that he thinks she got herself into this mess, and she automatically dismisses his opinion as the jealous pining of a rejected suitor. And when he assures her that his thoughts are genuine, she becomes upset and fires him. It’s almost reminiscent of a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t win their game. Instead, when someone comes to us with a critique, instead of growing angry or dismissive, we should instead take their words under seriously, consider them humbly, and act accordingly. Proverbs is filled with counsel for its readers, and one of the reoccurring themes is the heeding of wise counsel. “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored,” (Proverbs 13:18). “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing,” (Proverbs 29:1). And God’s word encourages us to give counsel to others, so that we may continually push each other to become more like Christ (Galatians 6:1, Proverbs 27:17). Though it’s much easier to feel indignant and reject it, we must take seriously the criticisms of others. Once we’ve heard the complaint, we must evaluate it against ourselves to see if it holds any merit. We should ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal any sin in it, so that we may repent and give it to Him (Psalm 139:23-24). Be willing to be humble, so that you can let the Holy Spirit work in shaping your heart (Proverbs 11:2). Then finally, you should act according to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to you. If this requires seeking forgiveness from someone, do it as soon as you can, so that you can reconcile yourself to them and to the Lord (Matthew 18:15, Matthew 5:23-24). When we are able to receive wise, but difficult counsel with humility, the body of Christ grows stronger. Do not give in to your anger or pride, and instead allow the Word of the Lord to work in your heart and shape you more and more like Him.