In a continuation of this subject, it would seem prudent to set aside time and space to discuss what we mean by “affirmation.” It can mean many different things to people, making it all too easy to launch a 15-car pile-up out here in the “information super highway.” And I’m thinking that as we clarify terms, we may also end up answering some of our other questions. So let’s throw out some possibilities for “affirmation.”
The safest place to start is the dictionary, which defines “affirm” as declaring positively that something is true, and declaring support or admiration for something or somebody. When I look at those words, they come across as very cold and matter-of-fact, and that’s not the way I would describe affirmation. So while there certainly are people who think of affirmation in this Spartan sort of way, I’m guessing that there are a lot of others out there like me who associate affirmation with Hallmark cards, tacky teddy bears and hugs.
Maybe affirmation can be described as appreciation for either what someone does or simply for whom they are. For some, affirmation might be a statement of a person’s value, either individually or respective of others. But maybe – just maybe – some approach affirmation not as an expression of their own thoughts and feelings, but as a way to affect the thoughts and feelings of the person who is the object of their affirmation. In this sense, affirmation is more like encouragement. I think there are a significant number of people who see affirmation in this sense. They want to encourage a friend or a child so that bad perspectives or feelings will be eliminated, and good ones, reinforced.
So as we move forward, I think we can avoid the starchy dictionary definition and talk about affirmation as expressing “positive” thoughts and feelings about person with the intention of eliciting those same thoughts and feelings in them. The issue here then, isn’t simply voicing support for an act (e.g. “I really appreciated that you took out the trash without being asked!”), but considering the motivation behind expressing that sentiment (“I want you to keep this up so I don’t have to keep nagging you about it!”). I think this concern not just for what we do, but why we do things, is consistent with emphasis we hear from Jesus in the Gospels.
This sort of affirmation is where I’d like to place my focus, NOT on straightforward appreciation. In terms of appreciation, it would seem to me that we don’t need to consider whether or not we should be grateful for others (we should!), but why it is that we fail to be so, and that is another topic fort another day! So as we consider what role “affirmation” plays in the life of a disciple, I hope these thoughts help us think through our answers more efficiently.