By Sam Crabtree
Words matter. As soon as God created mankind, he engaged him verbally. Merely speaking with (not at) people can affirm their existence. You talk to me; therefore, in a sense, I am. Simply greeting someone who walks through a room can be affirming to the individual and uplifting to everyone in the environment.
And like water to a dry garden, speech has the strange and wonderful power to penetrate the soul and bring refreshment. A good word overcomes anxiety: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25).
Words have been endowed with the capacity to change lives, to bring arresting transformation. They have the curious and uncanny power to make living things die or bring dead things to life: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21).
Practicing the following list will not give you the life of Christ or transform your heart so that you want to be an affirming person. But if you have the life of Christ in you and you want to be a blessing to others, the following list might assist you to that end. A list will not save you, but if you are saved, you might find this list of ideas on how to affirm others useful:
1. Loan a young person your keys. Or give him his own key.
2. At a committee or board meeting, before moving on to the next agenda item, stop to commend those who worked on the previous item.
3. Write a personal letter or note card that an employee can take home or put in a personnel file. Keep a supply of such blank note cards in your desk for just such a purpose. E-mails will do, but they are less likely to be pinned up on workspace walls or put in a portfolio.
4. Commend the wisdom and helpfulness of a suggestion somebody has made, especially when the suggester has offered to be a part of a solution to a problem.
5. Explain that what inspired you to do some good thing was the other person’s example. “I brought coffee cake for the office because I see how much the staff enjoys it when you consistently do thoughtful things.”
6. Don’t talk down to people; talk up to them. Consider them better than you. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). “You probably already know this, but …”
7. Just as God decisively chose Paul in Acts 9, tell your spouse, “I chose you, and I still do.”
8. Write to children. An enthusiastic and thankful mother of some youngsters wrote me after I had first written her young sons, thanking them for their hospitality in serving me a muffin when I visited their home for an interview related to child dedications at our church. To show the significance of my note (and stickers) sent to the boys, she quoted one of them as saying, “Tall men don’t usually send you letters.” It is hard to calculate the lasting effect of an affirmation given to a child.
9. Share a valuable secret of yours, making it known to the other person that very few others (if any) have been invited into this inner circle of those considered trustworthy.
10. Loan something of value—books, camping gear, a car, a cabin—as a signal of your willingness to take a risk, having noticed something in the other person that elevates your confidence in her trustworthiness.
11. Think of something that is normally not praised, because it is simply expected—like refilling the soap dispensers in the church restrooms. Customarily, those who have responsibilities for such things as refilling soap dispensers only hear from people when the dispensers are empty. Be the one to notice that they are not empty, and commend the faithfulness of the worker who serves others behind the scenes.
12. In the next birthday card or Christmas card you send, include a personal note commending some Christlike quality you observe in the recipient.
13. Commend someone for the (sensitivity, kindness, compassion, etc.) with which he treated a third party. You noticed, and so does God.
14. Quote someone positively in his presence. “I agree with Jacob here, who said … ”
15. Shannon Archer, a mother of several young children in our church, affirms her own children by affirming all children who demonstrate certain character qualities, saying within earshot of her children, “I’m so pleased with children who put away their things (or speak kindly to their siblings, or …)” when she sees one of them behaving in that very way. Talking this way affirms the child in question, explicitly elevates the principle being taught and applied, and holds out hope to other children who might be eavesdropping that if they demonstrate the same kind of character, they too will please Mommy.
16. Get up from your chair, go to another room, seek out a person, and simply say something like, “I just came to say ‘hi’ (or ‘good morning,’ or ‘have a great day,’ or ‘I appreciate you for …’).” Admittedly, in some relationships that may seem forced, but it will generally be welcomed as a light-hearted affirmation of a person’s existence.
17. Say, “I thank God for you.”
18. When asked to do a chore, consider saying something like, “Nothing would give me more pleasure right now than doing this for you.” Serving someone can be affirming of them.
19. Nominate someone for an office or post—based upon her integrity, dependability, or trustworthiness.
20. Ask someone’s advice.
Do you see? There is fruit to be harvested as a consequence of how we speak. God has designed speech in accordance with the law of the harvest: Reaping follows planting, the crop matches the seed sown, and the harvest is greater in quantity than the amount sown. Harvests and seeds: ends and means to ends. That’s the way God designed it. Speech yields reactions; therefore, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23).
Adapted excerpt taken from Practicing Affirmation by Sam Crabtree, © 2011, pages 149-155. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
Sam Crabtree is a former public school teacher and has served as executive pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1997.