The Power of a Compliment

My daughter is five.

The other day we were sitting in a diner enjoying brunch when the waitress told us, “That man over there just told me that your daughter’s adorable.” That same made said the same thing as he walked past us on his way out.

beautiful 01My daughter gets it a lot from strangers. “Oh, you have the most beautiful eyes.” Personally, I don’t even know what that means, but she hears it a lot.

Lately, Little Miss 5yo has come to recognise that people in stores will give her a lollipop or something, “because I’m cute”.

While the compliments she receives focus on her beauty, cuteness and eyes, it’s usually different for boys. Young boys will be told by strangers that they’re strong, tall, or fast. The compliments still focus upon physical attributes, but they’re more related to accomplishments than fate.

I appreciate that these random strangers take time out of their day to compliment my daughter. I prefer this to the same random stranger complaining that her 5 year old behaviour is disruptive.

I appreciate that my daughter has a growing sense of self-worth. But I don’t want my daughter, or your son, to  receive the message that her physical attributes make her a better person than someone else who doesn’t receive that affirmation.

I don’t resent that strangers make these comments. Generally speaking it’s a positive experience. When I would come home from university a couple of times a semester, my Grandmother would often greet me with, “Have you put on weight?” I hadn’t. I was in good shape. I came to resent that criticism and it impacted my regard for her. So yes, I’ll take compliments of criticism.

What I would like to change is the way the Christians in our lives compliment my daughter, other kids her age, teens and the rest of us.

Yesterday I preached from 1 Samuel 16:7. As the prophet Samuel looks over the candidates to anoint the next king of Israel…

 the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The apostle Peter makes a similar statement in 1 Peter 3:3-4.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

So I wonder where and when we began emphasising the need to dress up for church. You know. You’d wear your finest clothes if you knew the queen or president was going to attend your church today. Shouldn’t you do the same for God? But neither the queen or the president knew me in my mother’s womb or see me in my birthday suit like God does.

I wish churches provided a different environment and expressed different values. Shouldn’t I expect that my daughter will more likely receive a compliment for generosity, kindness, honesty, loving God, or peacemaking than her pretty dress when she gathers with our church? Shouldn’t we affirm the gentleness, compassion, initiative, love for God, or patience of our young men, rather than their ability to move tables around the church building?

Even among the adults I worship with each week, I’m more likely to congratulate them for a promotion at work than I am for noticing their growth in Christ. Don’t I overlook their spiritual growth? Is that why I don’t say anything about it?

Compliments communicate values.

My Mum never complimented my accomplishments in the many video games I played. She didn’t value them. But she did value the grades I made at school, and she told me so. She did value the Godly choices I made, and she let me know it.

Churches often make public statements of how the heart is more important than the outward appearance. It’s time to integrate this truth into our daily speech. It’s time to pass on this message to those around us.

Maybe you are beautiful. Maybe you are strong. But I admire most the Godly growth I’m seeing in your life.

Strangers compliment appearance because that’s all they know about a person. Complimenting one’s heart requires a greater investment in that person in order to see their heart. But isn’t that what church is supposed to be all about?  Complimenting the heart demonstrates sincere love for one another.

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