One of the things we all look for in life, perhaps even more than truth, is affirmation. We're all looking for that thing that tells us we're on the right track, that we're doing something good, that goodness is even possible. Whatever it is, we want that affirmation. It just makes it feel like someone's standing behind us.
But the kind of affirmation you seek reveals something deeper about you. It bares your insecurities and the questions you can't seem to get away from.
Take, for example, the man who seeks affirmation in terms of awards or promotions. Recognitions. He want to be Employee of the Month. He wants the corner office. He wants the Distinguished Service Award. If there's an award for Most Consistent Hand-Washing in the men's room, you can bet he's going to make a show of winning it.
Because recognition is the greatest need in his heart. Like most things, he can come at this from two sides. Either he is the kind of man who never believed much of himself and doesn't think he can accomplish anything, so the recognition and the award responds to his low self-esteem. Or he's the kind of man who has always accomplished and thus, his entire self-image is based on what he does. People have always praised him for the things he does, and if he's not receiving the praise, he wonders if he's doing anything at all.
Or consider the woman who sees affirmation in numbers. It's in the people she can get to stand behind her, whether it's financially or socially or in some other way. She's always looking for people to invest in her latest idea, to come to her newest party, to join her club or her ministry.
Because people are her greatest need. Again, there are two sides to this. Either she's a woman who cannot escape her loneliness, which leads to feelings of worthlessness, and drawing people onto her team reminds her that she's not alone. Or she's a woman who has never had to be alone and is scared of what she might find, so a successful life is one that is always surrounded by others.
Even people who think they're "above" needing affirmation...are asking for it. They're asking for others to affirm their aloofness, to affirm their detachment, to confirm their simple existence and nothing more. They're asking not to be judged at all. These people shy away from any possible encouragement because either they constantly wonder if they could ever do anything right or they find it paralyzing to think they could do something wrong. They let affirmation roll off their backs only so they can let criticism do the same.
For me, my hang-up is permission. I always feel like I need to have permission to do what I'm doing, or some days, to even exist. So my favorite affirmation is the honest nod. A small, quiet assenting to what I'm doing or what I'm saying. A tiny gesture that says, "Yes, you're right" or more importantly, "Yes, you can." Now, it could be that I have an insatiable need to do things correctly and agreeably. Or it could be that I'm too adventurous for my own good and need others to draw my bounds. Or it could be something else entirely that I choose not to disclose.
The point is, what means the most to you in affirmation is always an answer to a question you're probably afraid to ask. So you let your work do the asking, and the affirmation is the answer.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. It is the way we're wired; most of us do this without a second thought. But there are some things we need to understand.
First, we have to know we're asking questions. And we have to be honest enough with ourselves to figure out what we're asking. And why.
Second, we have to understand that the way this world speaks often has nothing at all to do with us. Most of the time, the people around us don't know they're answering our questions. They don't know we're asking. So if you don't get the Most Consistent Hand-Washing Award, it may not be because you don't consistently wash your hands; it may be because they were trying to get Joe to start washing his hands, and he did, so he wins. If people don't rally around your idea, it doesn't mean you or your idea aren't worthy; it means it's not their type of idea. If someone pushes you to do more than simply be, and you find out you are, in fact, good or bad at something, they're not making a judgment about you; they're making an investment in you. And if you speak and no one nods, it doesn't mean you haven't said something honest and poignant; it means you are obviously far intellectually superior and spiritually deep to them and they just didn't understand you.
Okay, no. It means you're just not sharing the same moment.
And that's okay. It's fine for people to be in two different places on any given issue, for things to happen differently than we would like them to. It's even okay for affirmation to fall silent and refuse to answer our questions. It only makes us more aware of our asking.
And when we know what we're asking, we get ever closer to knowing Who to ask. Awards, accolades, support, investment, and all affirmation aside, we ought to be bold enough to just ask our questions and let God speak into them.
Because when God says it's okay, when He says you're okay...well, that's the biggest affirmation of all.