[This post is part of the Reshaping Christian Habits series]
The last couple of posts in this series have focused on criticizing, yet doing so graciously. It is only natural then to offer some insights into the habit of affirmation. This is something I need to grow in, and you might as well. Realistically, you should be affirming people far more than you criticize them. If you view a relationship like a bank account, criticisms are withdrawals and affirmations are deposits.
Question: What happens when you make more withdrawals than deposits?
Answer: Your relationships go bankrupt.
To help you avoid that, I’d like to point you to Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation, which I reviewed here a few weeks ago. I mentioned that in the final chapter, Crabtree offers 100 ideas for people who feel stuck. Here, I’d like to offer 20 of those (some are verbatim and some have been altered by me). These are not necessarily connected or are meant to build on each other, but if you take time to do several of these, perhaps even more than once, it should help you start developing the habit of affirmation in your personal relationships and keep them from going into the red.
Here they are:
- Take time to affirm someone you know who is doing something risky yet right (like a missionary going to hostile country).
- Next time you send someone a birthday card, add a few words of affirmation highlighting a Christ-like quality you see in that person.
- Positively compare someone you know to a Bible hero.
- Following a worship service, write a note or leave a voice mail for someone who excelled in reverential musicality, hospitable ushering, enthusiastic reading, or faithful preaching.
- Commend a parent you know that is sacrificing for their children in a godly way.
- At family gatherings, invite everyone to mention something they particularly admire about another family member.
- If you know someone who is chronically ill, take time to affirm their endurance, patience, and determination.
- When a staff member at your church has invested extra time at work, send a note to their spouse, perhaps with flowers or a gift card, expressing appreciation for them sharing their husband or wife.
- Affirm people you know who solve problems without waiting to be asked, commending their initiative.
- Rather than give your spouse an anniversary card written by someone who works for Hallmark, spend some time studying the phrasing in the cards in the anniversary card section, and then take time to deliberately compose your own card.
- Next time an error of yours is brought to your attention, not only own it, but affirm the person who brought it to you for their alertness and thoroughness in catching it.
- Take time to commend the people in your life who have been especially reliable, as well as those who have the habit of being punctual. Both people are imaging Christ through their actions and should be recognized.
- This may seem obvious (but worth mentioning anyway), take time to pray that God would enable you to be more affirming of others.
- When someone passes along a good idea, or helps you change your mind about an issue, affirm their persuasiveness and communication skills.
- Think of the most humble person you know. Praise that person’s humility to a mutual friend.
- When children (such as your own) bring up something they heard in a sermon or in class, praise their attentiveness.
- Affirm the flexibility you see in others when they readily adjust plans to accommodate a need.
- In your small group or Sunday school at church, ask people to tell you about the nicest compliments they ever received. See if you can learn from their experiences and implement ideas on your own.
- When presented with an overlooked solution to a problem you may be having, commend the other person’s resourcefulness and/or creativity.
- Look for someone who is making do in the midst of disappointing circumstances and affirm their contentment and its beauty.
As you might recognize at this point, most of these ideas could be reduced to two verbs: Notice and Verbalize. If you want to build the habit of affirming others, you’ll need to start noticing more things that can be affirmed in the other people, and then say what you’ve noticed.
There are no tricks or gimmicks involved. It really just comes down to being more attentive to other people than you are to yourself. The more focused you are on your own agenda, the less focus you have available to notice things about other people that you could affirm. By default, you’ll pick up on things to criticize. It takes effort though to be on the lookout for positive things to affirm about other people. Hopefully the ideas here can help you get a jump start. I’d be happy to share some more or start a conversation in the comments section. Let me know if you find this helpful!