Affirmations give us feedback. They tell us our status at a certain place and time. And so, we look for affirmations from those around us.
A wife looks to her husband for affirmation of his love for her. A husband looks to his wife for affirmation of her respect for him. Children look to parents for affirmation of their boundaries.
Outside the family, the employed look for affirmation of their employment in a regular paycheck, in a regular review and in a manager’s approval. Students seek affirmation of their studies in the grade received and in the teacher’s approval. Church goers seek affirmation of their faith and atheists seek affirmation of their faith. Both faith groups do so in communities of others like themselves.
We choose friends who will affirm us in life-sustaining ways. Or, we look for friends who will affirm our unhealthy choices. We look for feedback from our friends. Our Friend the Way affirmed for us the life-sustaining way:
“Go in by the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction, you see, is nice and wide, and the road going there has plenty of room. Lots of people go that way. But the gate leading to life is narrow, and the road going there is a tight squeeze. Not many people find their way through.”
Like the roads signs I encountered on my recent trip to Memphis, affirmations can be signposts and confirmations that we are heading in the right direction. They can also tell us where paths diverge, as shown above. Affirmations guide us along.
Affirmations of relationships are writ large in the gospels. We read of God the Father’s out-of-the-heavens affirmation of His Son in Matthew 3:17 and again 17:5:
“This is my son, my beloved son,” said the voice. “I am delighted with him.”
The Lord’s affirmation of his followers is made obvious throughout the gospels. He let us know that we are of much greater value than a sparrow that the Father feeds and cares for daily. Through parables, Jesus affirmed to us our worth. He let it be known that when the lost are found and when the prodigal returns, the heavens rejoice. My last post talked about Jesus calling us his friends if we do what he asks of us.
Jesus affirms the choice his followers make in leaving all and following him. He does so by giving them the same confirmation that he received from the world: rejection. From John’s gospel account:
“If the world hates you, “Jesus went on, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were from the world, the world would be fond of its own. But the world hates you for this reason: that you are not from this world. No, I chose you out of this world.”
The world seeks affirmation from its own. Writ large on social media: the world is fond of its own. If the scroll of a Twitter feed is any indication, those in the world seek constant critical-free affirmation. Some, the malignantly narcissistic, insist upon “affirmation independent of all findings” per Austrian philosopher Martin Buber. These want to live in a fact-free world about their own character. They are intolerant of any examination of their character. When challenged, many will quote Jesus about not judging others, even though their behavior suggests that they do not care one iota about what Jesus has to say. That pretty much sums up many of the replies I receive on Twitter.
Typically, the world’s demand for affirmation is couched in the high-sounding “rights”. Legal rights as enforced affirmation is desired by the world because legal rights coerce others to affirm them. Affirmation was demanded of the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the Court’s same-sex marriage decision that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
Yet, even with “equal dignity in the eyes of the law” the world’s superficial affirmations, in the eyes of the beholder, quickly fade. And, with it satisfaction wanes. Consider receiving a participation trophy for just showing up. Or, receiving “dignity” for just showing up.
One has to wonder if the world’s narcissistic impulse to be constantly, dramatically and legally affirmed is due to popularization of self-esteem and the big business of self-love:
Self-Esteem in the Classroom is a curriculum guide for grades 1-12 contains 416 pages detailing over 220 classroom-tested activities to build self-esteem. –Jack Canfield, Maximizing Your Potential website
You can download a free About Me: Self-Esteem Sentence Completion Worksheet
Self Esteem Activities boost your self-esteem, confidence and experience of peace and happiness. Just as a muscle requires regular exercise to maintain its’ strength and flexibility your positive self-esteem brain pathways are fortified by specific self-esteem exercises and worksheets. –15 Great Self Esteem Building Activities & Exercises For Teens and Adults
Many psychologists will spend a lot of your time (and your money) seeking out the cause of your low self-love.
Retired psychologist Anthony Daniels, writing under his pen name Theodore Dalrymple, offered his tongue-in-cheek thoughts about self esteem in Chapter Four of his book, Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality
Whatever else you must do, you must always love and esteem yourself, otherwise you are doomed to a life of sterile denigration. In dynamic psychotherapy one must uncover the roots of a lack of self-esteem …
In behavioral psychotherapy a lack of necessary self-esteem is the result of a vicious circle of thought in which reflections upon failure lead to real failure, which lead to future reflections upon failure, and so on ad infinitum. The object of the cognitive behavioral therapy is break the vicious circle, thus transforming a wretched mouselike creature who barely dares to leave his mouse hole into a go-getter who wins friends and influences people. It is not difficult to see the connection between these ideas and the modern pedagogic tendency to praise children for their efforts, however desultory …
The notion of self-love or self-esteem is in itself either ridiculous or repellent. No one ascribes his good character or successes in life to an adequate fund of self-esteem … Self-doubt, within reason, is something to be overcome; self-esteem is complacency elevated to an ontological plane.
In the world, self-importance and its kissing cousin self-affirmation are all the rage. Literally. Affirm one’s self and thereby avoid and denounce all critical examination. Allow others to generously affirm you at no cost to yourself. And, if someone gets close to the beloved self with the light of truth then release all stored-up wrath to blow out the candle.
What Are You So Affirmed Of?
Those who behave this way act out of fear. They do not know the affirmation of God that releases them from fear. As it is written, There is no fear in love; complete love drives out fear. Fear has to do with punishment, and anyone who is afraid has not been completed in love.
Jesus summed up his affirmation of us on the cross as he honored his own words: There is no greater affirmation than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. The world sums up its affirmation in self-image participation trophies and fortune cookies.