Affirm . . . Or Not
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman has sold over 8 million copies. Chapman, a pastor and counselor, says we tend to give, receive and appreciate love in five ways or “languages,” one of which will be the most natural for each of us. The five languages are quality time, giving and receiving gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. For years, I thought my love language was quality time, since I’m the perpetrator of sunset picnics, soft chairs, soft music, and outdoor coffee shops. But a few years ago, I painfully acknowledged that I’m more of a “words of affirmation” guy. I hate to admit it, but I love praise and encouragement. It fires me up.
As a “words of affirmation” guy, I’ve come to see that when affirmation is absent, it can feel like rejection. We “words” people create expectations for others, subconsciously predicting how they’re going to react to us. When they don’t meet our secret expectations or affirm what we’ve done, we feel “un-affirmed,” even unappreciated. We become resentful and either withdraw or get angry inside. And it’s not only that we’re not affirmed for what we did, we feel “dis-affirmed” for who we are.
Affirmation of people is a non-negotiable for Jesus-followers. There isn’t a person walking the face of God’s green earth who doesn’t need affirmation. And there’s not a person excluded from our assignment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). As always, God’s Word is a mirror in which we can see ourselves. If we don’t feel affirmed, it’s hard to affirm other people, just like it’s hard to love others if we don’t feel loved ourselves. The transformative power of the Gospel comes when we realize we are loved . . . totally and unconditionally . . . by our Heavenly Father. Believing that we’re loved gives us the confidence to love others. Receiving the unconditional affirmation of God empowers us to give unconditional affirmation to our “neighbors.”
It’s interesting that when God models affirmation for us in Matthew 3:17 and Luke 9:35 . . . when He says, “This is my son,” He’s speaking to John the Baptist, his followers and bystanders. You wouldn’t say “This is my son” to your son. Jesus hears the affirmation, but it’s spoken to those around Him. On the Mount of Transfiguration, it’s the same thing. God says from the cloud, “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to Him.” He’s speaking to Peter, James and John. Jesus hears Him, but the words are not directed to Him. So one lesson from this is to affirm people in front of those that matter most to them. Compliment your kids in front of their teachers. Praise an employee in front of his wife. Another lesson here is to affirm people for who they are, not for what they’ve “done for you lately.” Don’t fall into the trap of blowing smoke with false praise and puffery. Affirm identity, character and effort . . . things that matter for the long haul.
Affirmation is inexpensive yet priceless. You can change the trajectory of a life by giving or withholding affirmation. Take the time to thoughtfully affirm those whom God has placed in your life.