Everyone needs a good word every now and again, and I have been blessed in this past week to receive more than a few. Consider me encouraged.
But one of the persistent problems I've faced - and I know I'm not alone - is that it's hard to know how to respond to praise. For any number of reasons.
In the past, I have felt unworthy and tried desperately to deflect kind words. I have been embarrassed, hung my head, and walked away. I have been arrogant, expecting more praise than I've received. I have been falsely humble, using good-sounding words to seem appreciative without neglecting my own ego. I have hung my head, raised my head, enlarged my head, and turned my head away.
These days, I'm kind of just shaking my head.
Because it's unbelievable. It's simply overwhelmingly unbelievable that my today looks like this.
The question, though, is how do you respond to the praise of man when it doesn't make you feel any different about yourself? When the kind words poured out on you only make you feel more blessed and more gracious and more humbled?
One of the more popular responses as people aim to be more humble in these times is the quick "Thank you, but it wasn't me" followed by some physical gesture toward the heavens or verbal quip about our incredible God. I wonder if even half of the people who say this, though, even believe it. It just sounds nice; but it also sounds phony. It leaves me with a taste of falsehood in my mouth that I just can't shake. And I start to think I'm talking to someone (or responding as someone) who just can't take a compliment. I just don't feel like even when we verbalize "give God the glory," it even comes close to that. It sound more like shaking it off - don't tell me. Tell Him.
And if I take every good word that comes my way and pass it off on the Father who blessed me to do such things, I feel like I start to lose part of myself. Like I'm giving myself over that God would work through me instead of my working with Him.
Don't get me wrong: I love the God in me. But I'm quite fond of being in Him, too, and there has to be a way for us to share the harvest in some small way. Not for my glory, but for the chance to experience the fullness that comes from living in Him just as He has filled me to do whatever it is that I do. It's a God thing.
I'm finding the answer may be the simple thank you. That's all. Just a simple thanks. An acknowledgment that I hear your good word and am thankful for it, but I'm neither burying it in my heart nor giving it away. I'm letting it be in the moment, in whatever has just taken place, so that it doesn't get in the way of what's happening here. So that neither word - yours nor mine - builds a barrier to this. Whatever this may happen to be.
The simple thank you allows both the praise-giver and the praise-hearer to engage in the moment without either being distracted from the grander scheme. For example, people will sometimes come up to me after I've spoken somewhere and start talking about this or that thing that I said. That's awesome to me because it means you have heard a word. But if I start talking about that word and this other one that sort of tied into it and the general overall everything, then when you walk away, that word isn't as strong in your heart. Instead, you're thinking about your interaction with me. But...if I respond with a simple thank you, four things happen: you are satisfied in having spoken your heart, I am encouraged by your engagement with both me and my offering, we both walk away not with each other but with that word digging deeper into our hearts, and God gets the glory because He gets to work through that. In both of us.
In the years that I struggled with what to say to the praise of man, a close minister friend of mine would constantly nag me. "Can't you just say a simple thank you?" he'd ask. Over and over and over again.
These days, I'm learning better to do just that. For no other reason than to give God the glory.