A few years ago, I was given a book, ‘How to Give and Receive Encouragement’, (Yes, I needed it). To begin with, it seemed like a foreign language. After all, I grew up thinking that “getting a big head” was pretty much the worst that could happen. Therefore the aim of social interaction was to keep both myself and others
squashed – humble. This applied especially to the people I loved most. After all, if being proud is the greatest sin, then the greatest kindness is to take ’em down. I call it “banter”, but if you’re not northern Irish, you could call it, “baffling and unprovoked cruelty”.
I’m learning to change – but it’s been a slow and painful process (for everyone). However, it’s receiving encouragement that feels most uncomfortable.
Someone tells you how much they’ve appreciated your support. Your boss takes you aside to say what a good job you’re doing. A friend says ‘you look great!’
How do you respond?
With a gracious thank-you? By contorting yourself into a tiny triangle and muttering? Or (my favourite) – outright denial: ‘It was nothing! / There must be some mistake/Are you JOKING?
Why do we react this way?
Sometimes it comes from low esteem. I think I’m rubbish: and when others contradict this, it doesn’t add up. it’s uncomfortable: there’s a bucket in my head for the negative, but no space for the good.
Then, there’s culture. Where I’m from, keeping others humble is a sign of affection. But in other places, effusive praise is just basic courtesy.
Or maybe it’s fear. If you think I’m good, you’ll expect more of me. What if I can’t live up to your expectations? What if you find out I’m a fraud? Maybe your love is conditional on my performance…and if I let you down you’ll instantly back off.
But here’s what I’m learning: receiving praise is not just about me. It’s a gift: and requires vulnerability on the part of the giver. It’s an expression of their emotions and experience: and when I bat it away, I can bat them away too.
So, take a deep breath. When someone says something nice, let it hang there for a moment. Don’t say why they’re wrong and don’t bat it away. Instead, go with ‘thank-you’. Pray about it later. And remember that receiving is a way of blessing too.