One of the “five love languages” famously developed by Dr. Gary Chapman is “words of affirmation.” This “love language” communicates love to others through words–words that encourage, edify, affirm, compliment, congratulate, thank… You get the idea. For whatever reason (really, I don’t know) I have had several people ask lately (either my wife or me) what my love language is. Interestingly enough, I don’t know. I have read several of Chapman’s books, I have taken the love language inventories…and I know what love language I most like to use (giving gifts, in case you’re wondering), but I am not sure what love language I most prefer to have “spoken” to me. The tests haven’t helped me any, either. I could probably spend a fair amount of time trying to analyze that but that isn’t really the purpose of this post (plus, I doubt you really care!)
More than one person has suggested that my love language must be words of affirmation. Why? Because, they say, I use it well. I have developed a habit of sorts of writing little notes of encouragement to people from time to time. Ironically, perhaps, that is not because I crave words of affirmation. In fact, the fact that I receive any commendation for using them is the result of an intentional effort on my part to use them (and I’m still better at doing so in writing than verbally, though I’m striving to improve in that regard, too). I do not remember receiving many words of affirmation growing up and I do not remember ever really feeling like I needed words of affirmation. At the same time, I have the Type-A tendency to spot things that could be improved or that have not been done well. I am far more likely to comment on areas in need of improvement than I am on areas of commendation. So I have made a point to be more complimentary, more positive, more encouraging. I still don’t feel like I need words of affirmation myself, though.
However, I have also found that I do appreciate them. Twice in recent weeks I have been reminded that even if I do not need them, I am encouraged by them when they come along. Last week a former student e-mailed me with a letter attached to his message that he had addressed to the faculty and staff of the school where I serve. He asked me to share it with everyone. In the letter he said that one of his professors had recently mentioned how encouraging letters of appreciation from former students can be to teachers, so this student decided to take the time to write such a letter to his former teachers. It was a welcome discovery to find it in my e-mail and I know that it was an encouragement to many people.
A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a current high school junior. She had initiated the conversation and at one point she told me that she wanted me to know that she really respects me. She followed that up by saying, “I know that probably doesn’t mean much coming from a teenager but I do.” I had to tell her that, on the contrary, it means a great deal coming from a teenager. It meant a lot to me for two reasons. One, many teenagers tend not to have a whole lot of deeply-held respect for most adults, so when one does, and takes the time to express it, that is huge. Two, I have found that teenagers are really very good at seeing through any facades we may try to put up and to see us adults for who we really are–especially if we spend much time with them. So for this young lady to both see something worth respecting and to take the time to share it meant a great deal to me and I told her that I appreciated her telling me that.
So I’m really just sharing with you a personal lesson that I have learned…and am learning. Whether I need them or not, whether it is the love language with which I am most comfortable or not, words of affirmation do go a long way. Maybe they are just words…but those words can be the boost someone needs to keep going, the encouragement they need when they are down, the confirmation they need when they are doubting… Words may not cost us anything, but they sure do have value.