Years ago, when I wrote my first book, Prayers from the Throne of God, a man paid me a compliment. He said my book was better than a well-known classic on prayer. When he spoke those words, I had two responses, both internal. One, I knew the man was not being honest because I was familiar with the classic he referenced and my book would never be a threat to that well-deserved classic status. Secondly, I knew in that season of his life, the man was trying to gain my friendship using false flattery as a tool. It worked for him in his broken past, but now he was in an environment where that was not a value or a virtue.
The day the man spoke the shallow flattery, his credibility crumbled in my eyes. Not a throwaway kind of crumbling, but it was a reason to weigh his future words with a grain of salt. We continued to have a relationship, but the relationship needed to be more honest and truth-telling before it could be real. The man’s crumbled credibility was eventually rebuilt. It was rebuilt through God-honoring conversations that were a two-way street of honest interaction.
Many times we try to build our credibility by the improper use of flattery and affirmation. These ways of communication are the equivalent of an emotional selfie with people we deem to be important. Social media is full of cheesy photos that equate proximity with a relationship. It also happens when we type a comment we know is not fully true. In those instances, we are trying to connect with someone we value to somehow salve a sense of lack we might have regarding our own identity.
I have found the best thing to do in any relationship is to simply affirm the person, not an action or accomplishment. Yes, there are some actions and accomplishments that do deserve affirming, but the deeper affirmation is always apart from what a person does – it’s an affirmation of who they are as a human being valued by God. These affirmations can travel with a person through all the seasons of life – the failures and the successes – and allow them to emerge on the other side emotionally and spiritually intact.