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Affirmation: blessing or burden?

Affirmation. It’s a neglected gift and a double-edged sword. Social media can be a place to applaud and celebrate people or it can be a forum for derision that leads to devastation. Meanwhile, we keep being told that the corridors of parliament resound with hostility and stories of the most harmful behaviour. In this sad mix, where is godly affirmation? Where are people built up in true love? Where do we express our commitment to others in relationship?

We hunger for affirmation but struggle to provide it

We love to be affirmed by others. Indeed, it feels so good to be appreciated that it can easily become an idol – something to pursue at all costs. But given that that is so, why is it so hard to affirm? Why do we often feel awkward and anxious about telling people how much they mean to us? Kids? OK. Wife? OK. Grandchildren? Of course. Friends? A bit. People with whom I’m in conflict? Oh no, hold it there! That’s nowhere near as easy. Nor as comfortable.

God makes a big deal of affirmation

God makes a big deal of affirmation, especially with people who have rejected and despised him. He reaches even to his adversaries with words of kindness and invitation – words like these:

  • “’Come, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
  • “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3). (See, also, Malachi 1:2)
  • “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
  • “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mat 23:37)

There’s a theme here that’s at the heart of the Christian faith. In spite of our rejection of God and our downright rebellion against his authority, God loves human beings and he’s not ashamed to say so. He doesn’t only affirm our importance to him; he also reiterates his determination to restore us to himself. There is no length to which he would not go to regain his errant children, even enduring the death of his own Son. The God who is in conflict with his creatures affirms his commitment even to rebels.

A skill to be developed

Since affirmation is so important to God – and, therefore, to those who are made in his image – how can we become skilled in it? For some that will mean overcoming the fear of rejection or ridicule. For some it will require development of a new vocabulary. But for all of us it will require constant practice. Affirmation is important. It’s one of the primary components of negotiations that lead to reconciliation as expressed in the PAUSE acronym:

Prepare

Affirm relationships

Understand interests

Search for solutions

Evaluate options

More can be learned about this in the foundational PeaceWise courses: Everyday Peacemaking and The Heart of the Peacemaking. There is also a short, helpful exploration of the importance of affirmation (and an illustrative story) in The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, pp.131-133

Perhaps, when the thought of affirming someone who we are in conflict with (as a risk-taking move towards peace) is scaring us, we could turn to Jesus for both inspiration and help.  He is the one who, “for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Perhaps we might ask for God’s help to face the fear of rejection, or anxiety at not being able to express ourselves properly, as we look to the bright hope of wrongs forgiven, relationships restored, and the character of God being demonstrated in his world – even through us!

Bruce Meller is a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. Married to Lorraine, he has three adult children and ten grandchildren. Through long experience in many different contexts, he has learned to love the principles of biblical peacemaking. Bruce enjoys seeing people restored to God and to one another through a deepening awareness of the unfathomable depths of God’s love. 

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