This is something very close to my heart. As I have been seeking to understand "why?" in the challenges of my life, and just seeking God in it all; I have come onto some interesting talks/ reading. It’s helped me refocus (or better yet clarify) my view on life – I’d like to share it with you.
So, let me say right off the bat that I have been reading Abandonment to Divine Providence, listening to a CD of talks by Suzanne Baars (a psychologist) called Abode of Love & reading Leisure The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper.
As a parent, I’m always wanting to love my children the best I can and in the way that fulfils their individual needs. Baars says that we as human persons need to be affirmed and that so many children in the past few decades and who are now adults have never had affirmation consistently given to them. Without this, one is not confident because you are constantly seeking an affirmation of your very self. This insecurity plays out in all kinds of ways, but the person is never at peace with themselves. She says she knows it is hard to hear but she sees it happening when children are sent to institutional daycare or their parents are very over-occupied with work or their parents never learned how to emotionally affirm from their parents and so don’t know how to truly affirm their children.
"How to affirm" is especially difficult to learn to do in a society that stresses work. Our society pushes not a “work to live” but a “live to work” mentality. You want to be efficient. If what you are doing is not making you money or proving valuable to the contribution of society, then it’s not worth doing. We go, go, go. We analyze, objectify, observe, judge. And in its proper place these things do have value.
However, we need to take time to be “affective”. We need to allow the world and especially the people around us to affect us. Take for example, a rose. We see it, we smell it, and we take in its beauty. We allow the flower to affect us. Once we start observing it, however, we have shifted to being effective and looking to use the flower for our purposes (“…with its purplish hues this would look nice in a vase on kitchen counter…”) rather than just letting its presence affect our being.
There is much talk about the “entitlement mentality” and people have been advocating that we need to stop praising our children all the time, because then they will think no matter what they deserve to win even if they haven’t earned it. I’m bringing this up because I want to make a distinction; this is not the type of affirmation that Baars is speaking of. That talk of “less praise” is in reference to praising or affirming our children on something they are doing. (And whether or not we should do that is another topic entirely.)
Here, however, we are speaking about affirming our children in their being – just for who they are. Period. End of story. No matter what – no matter what they do, or what they say, or how they behave – we affirm the child just for being him or herself. This fulfills their need for emotional affirmation. To feel that your existence is worthy; to feel that your life has dignity and merit; and when they have this affirmation of their being, this person feels loved.
I would venture to say that this lack of emotional affirmation happens in all types of families. The big question is: Is it happening in ours? Or have I suffered from this? What I’ve also understood (I am one who has struggled with self-esteem issues as a young girl,you can read this post about that later), is that no amount of self affirmation will do the trick. Baars says you can say positive things about yourself until you die, but unless you have another person giving you that validation of the affirmation, you won’t believe it. I have found that to be really true. (So much gratitude to myhusband for his affirming love teaching me that I am actually lovable...)
People can also sense if you are trying to solve the problem, get something from them or judge them. There are times were these things might be appropriate, but not if the person needs your emotional affirmation – your love. That’s why even in marriage sometimes we really do just need to say, “I just need you to listen right now.” (We as women have the potential to be so good at loving! Let us tap into these beautiful feminine traits.)
This time to affirm and listen to each other can often happen at a meal. But how often are we checking our phone or watching tv or reading the paper or just being distracted and not giving our full attention to family member sharing? Loving them by just listening to what they have to say. Not to analyze it, correct it or tell them how they could have done it better, but just to listen and love.
This resonates so much with me! (I want to love well and often I ask myself, could it be said of me "they know we are Christians by our love"?) I set my phone aside now when we eat together. And this is not to say technology is bad, but there needs to be a balance. We must always remember to affirm the lives of those around us – they need our love to feel whole, to feel worthy, to be at peace.
I’ll end with this Coca Cola ad that speaks to this a bit…