I recently received a score of 100% in a ten-week seminary class, with a really nice note from my professor about my writing. My husband’s proud response to my perfect score was, “Don’t worry, you’ll do better next time.” We chuckled for a moment and then I moved on to the next thing on my to-do list. Don’t get big-headed about this. My prof. must be an easy grader. My “humble” self-talk turned critical quickly: Writing is one thing, but doing is another. I’ll bet you can’t practice what you preach. Some theologian you are…
Christians can have a strange way of interacting with accomplishment. Our attempt to live out the virtue of humility often leads us down a rabbit trail of self-criticism and, ironically, unhelpful self-focus. We don’t want to become prideful so we spend all our energy shaming ourselves instead. We starve ourselves of affirmation and then strive harder to obtain what we will never allow ourselves to receive. A merciless cycle.
But there is a more effective way of quieting that voice that longs so badly for affirmation. That is, to give it what it wants. The need to hear those four powerful words, “I’m proud of you” is not just some temptation to lure us into the trap of becoming prideful. It is an innate desire, given to us by our Creator, to foster intimacy between us and our God who loves to get googly-eyed with delight over his children.
As I found myself trying to shove away my desire to acknowledge my grades, I felt God inviting me to pause. Kelly, I am so proud of you. Celebrate! Be encouraged! Then I texted my mom and a father-like-figure and shared with them the note from my professor. My inner-child smiled real big. That’s all she needed. Content on the inside, my focus shifted back to caring for other people, this time with less striving and more child-like courage.
How do you need to allow yourself to receive words of affirmation? How might God want to tell you he is proud of you? This may be hard, but make a list of thirty ways God is proud of you. Yes, I said thirty. Don’t dwell too hard on whether or not it is from God. God has more thoughts towards you than sand on a seashore so there’s a high chance your tiny list overlaps with his vast delight for you (Psalm 139:18). How did that make you feel to write it down? How can you make that a regular rhythm in your life?