“Let me affirm you, Mike. You are doing all the right things to help that man.”
So said a professor of counseling at Wheaton College when I asked his advice about a tough counseling case. You see, sometimes people’s problems are so complex that it’s hard to know if we can help or not. Those words, especially coming from a man with his credentials, really helped me. What that professor did for me, husbands and wives can do for each other.
Affirmation is a great word. The Latin root means to make firm, to strengthen. Applied to facts, it means to add our testimony to the fact in order to strengthen it. With people, it is similar. When we speak to them in a way that makes them stronger, firmer, more resolute, we are affirming them. Here’s an example from the Bible:
Dear brothers and sisters, we always thank God for you, as is right, for we are thankful that your faith is flourishing and you are ll growing in love for each other. –2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NLT)
Mighty messenger he was, but Paul always had the heart of a father when writing to the people he cared about. And he always began his letters with affirmation. He might have some hard things to say to them, but he never wanted them to doubt his love or their value to Christ.
Everyone needs to know that someone valuable sees their worth and progress. Though we can survive without such affirmation, we may not thrive without it.
The Disease: Hyper-criticism
Many people have a soul disease that causes selective blindness, deafness, and loss of speech. They see every fault, but are blind to every blessing. Their hearing is acutely tuned to every slip of the tongue, every inaccurate word or phrase. But they miss the wisdom, the joy, the pleasure of listening to their loved ones with their hearts.
Their tongues can race like an untamed horse at a full gallop, clawing away at the exposed souls of their spouses. But they are struck dumb in expressing appreciation or admiration. Such a pathetic condition! They claim they can see, hear, and speak as well as the next person. But they don’t have any idea how sick they are, what that sickness is doing to them, or worst of all, what it is doing to their spouses and children.
I suppose some caught this disease when they were young. Growing up in a home without affirmation can create such attitudes. It’s selective, though. Some who never heard a kind word all their lives become fountains of praise and affirmation. It is as though the same atmosphere poisoned one and purified another.
The cure: Grace
If you are infected and tired of living with this crippling disease in your soul, I know a great cure. Grace. And grace has only one source: it always comes from God. Christians believe it comes only through Christ. He is the only fountain. Whatever fills us controls us. When we are in a relationship with Christ he fills us with grace.
Grace clarifies our vision, opens our deaf ears, and makes our destructive tongues instruments of healing. We become less critical and less cruel. Instead, we begin noticing the good, the progress, the value of the people around us. Then they change. Drooping shoulders straighten; dull eyes brighten; confidence grows.
Reasons We Do Not Affirm
Here are four reasons we fail to affirm:
Too Angry: Angry people never say words that heal and strengthen. Often their anger comes with reluctance to forgive. Their souls are more like barren deserts than gardens, and hot withering winds blow from them.
Too Busy: Busy people are moving too fast to see anybody, except maybe the idiots who, they think, are only on this earth to frustrate them.
Too Self-Centered: When it’s all about you, no one else really matters.
Too Weird: True spirituality makes us lovers– people who touch those around us with the grace of God. But there is a counterfeit spirituality that isolates us in our dogma. Most dogmatic people only care about being right, not about helping someone else feel worthwhile.
I’d like to affirm you. No matter who you are, no matter what you think about yourself, God loves you! As the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household.” –Acts 16:31
Already a believer in Jesus, but still feel incapable of affirming your loved ones? Ask God to change your heart, fill you with love, and give you a new way to see, to hear, and to speak. I promise you: he will do it. This truth I can affirm!