So many of us spend our lives searching for affirmation. We want someone to notice who we are and be ok with that. We want someone to tell us that who we are and what we're doing is a good thing. That's all we really want, we think. But I want to tell you a story.
Jesus told this story first, and I am going to tell His version and then change it a little so you can see what affirmation looks like. The story is the parable of the prodigal son, as told in Luke 15:
A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the property.' So the father divided his property between his two sons. After a few days, the younger son gathered his possessions and left for a country far away from home. There he wasted everything he had (his share of the property value) on a wild lifestyle. He had nothing left when a severe famine spread throughout that country. He had nothing to live on. ...Finally, he came to his senses. ...So he went at once to his father. While he was still at a distance, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son, put his arms around him, and kissed him. (parenthesis mine)
I love this story, and I know what you're thinking: what does this have to do with affirmation?
Nothing, really. I'm setting this up; stay with me. Because we are a people who think we want affirmation more than anything. We think affirmation answers that empty place in our spirit that questions everything we are. Consider your own need for affirmation as you read the story again, the way I'm going to tell it.
A man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the property.' So the father divided his property between his two sons. After a few days, the younger son gathered his possessions and left for a country far away from home. There he wasted everything he had on a wild lifestyle. He had nothing left when a severe famine spread throughout that country. He had nothing to live on. ...Finally, he came to his senses. ...So he went at once to his father. When he reached the property, he found his father in the barn, tending the cattle with his brother. He apologized for his reckless ways and begged his father for mercy, and his father responded, 'I already knew that's who you are. I already knew this is what you would do. I expected this of you because it is perfectly in tune with your nature. And I love you for it.' And the son wept.
And I kind of cried a little.
This is what affirmation looks like. It's people expecting of you just what they expect of you. It's people holding you to a lower standard because that's simply "who are you." It's people letting you be however you want to be and telling you it's ok, and loving you anyway. When you really think about it, is that what you want for your life? Affirmation?
I want the embrace. I want someone to come running to me, to meet me where I'm at instead of applauding me for who I am. Because if you want to know the truth, I'm not really anything. And the story of affirmation leaves no room for the greatest of things.
There's no room for grace because the space is filled with the full satisfaction of expectation. There's no wiggle room in who you are, so there's no place for grace. There's no room for forgiveness because if you just are what you are, you can do no wrong in doing what you do. There's no room for passion. In affirmation, the father doesn't come running out of the barn. He has other things to take care of, and affirmation doesn't tell him he has to meet you anywhere. It just tells him he has to wait for you to show up and be the way you've always been. There's no room for love...because affirmation, as pleasant as it seems, is stagnant. There's nothing dynamic about affirmation.
But embrace...that's where it's at. Embrace is that thing that makes the father come running for his chance to meet you here. It ignites passion. It inspires movement. Embrace makes room for grace because it's about the place and there's room here to wiggle a little. Embrace makes room for forgiveness because neither one of us is on our own turf. We meet in this mutually new place and you can't help but break down barriers to be there. Embrace is love. It is dynamic. It is powerful. And it moves you.
So many of us think what we need in our life is more affirmation, more people noticing what we do and praising us for it. More people seeing who we are and holding us to it. But I think if you understand what affirmation truly is, you'll find you don't need it any more.
What most of us are really after is embrace. Thank the Lord we have a Father who comes running.