Monday, August 15, 2011

Affirmation

I clearly remember where I was when Anna told me. I had gone to visit her in the calm of her home, surrounded by the energy, noise, and sometimes violence of Lancaster City. Rocking her daughter as I sat on the couch, she asked, "Do you know what most people think of you?"

"I have no idea." But, inaudibly, I added, "They most likely see how deeply I question myself and probably think my life is falling apart at the fringes most of the time."

"They think Becca has it all together. I have heard countless people talk about how confident and knowledgeable you are." She looked at me dead on as I gaped at her.

That moment is so clear to me, years later, because it was the first time that I realized other people might see me differently than I see myself. I realized that sometimes I need to be honest and vulnerable about my fears and battles because... people can't read me as well as I thought they could.

Maybe I inherited it. Maybe I learned it. But this natural inclination to carry one's self with confidence despite internal questions is both a blessing and a curse.

Pros:

- When working in social services, especially with teens, sometimes you have to appear calm while, inside, you're crouched like a cat, ready for anything. Sometimes you have to make a rather large judgment call and follow through with it, even though you might be terribly afraid that you just made the wrong decision. I know that this ability to appear genuinely calm and confident has served me well. My co-workers have told me so. No matter what your work, there are often people in your care who need to rely on your strength. Even when you're just as scared as everyone else. Maybe even more so, because you know the implications of your responsibility. I'm not saying we should be walking oaks, impenetrable, or dishonest about our weaknesses and fears. But you get my point... before this develops into a study on what strength is or is not.

- Face it. Sometimes life is really hard and you wonder why on earth you're even here. Maybe this reservation of dignity is plain old pride, but I don't think the whole world needs to know when these times occur. I have an inner circle of friends who know Becca's weakest moments and most vulnerable side, which is a treasure I wouldn't trade for all of Buckingham Palace. But most of the world needs my head and dignity in plain sight. I do wonder if this inclination a wild result of all the stoic German in my ancestry mixed with the grit of the Scotch, French Canadian, Irish, and Native Americans who color my blood. (Mom says this eclectic mix is why we kids are prone to some rather odd adventures at times. Like riding in a car trunk for over an hour. Yes, that was me. At 20 years old. But I won't be starting stories here.) At any rate, sometimes you just have to [wo]man up and keep going. It's part of living in a broken world, and I think God redeems this as a strength we wouldn't know or need if the world was as He intended.

Cons:

- Pretence. Sometimes weakness is required for redemption. It's hard to lay aside dignity and ask for help. Yet the moments that build trust in community are the ones in which everyone stops pretending they are fine. That they don't need. In fact, the truest connections are often centered around need. For further reading on that subject, check out my friend Josh's post. Be sure to read the comments, too, which are more entertaining if, as is my utter privilege, you know the commentators.

- People tend to assume you don't need affirmation if you look and act as if you don't need it. It is true that pretty girls often wonder whether they ARE pretty because everyone assumes they already know and don't need to be told. People who seem (and, most of the time, ARE) fairly confident in both their capacities and the Presence of God to sustain them in situations beyond their experience and skill level are rarely affirmed.

And we need affirmation. All of us. I have heard so many talented, competent, beautiful (or handsome, as the gender requires), and visionary people admit that they deeply question themselves. They wonder whether they are truly making a difference, whether they truly do have what it takes, whether they are attractive, or whether they actually are a good man or woman. Because no one ever tells them. This starvation is tragic.

So... when you're starving for affirmation, I'm sorry that someone might not notice. It feels so wrong to have to ask for it, but remember that only God sees your insides. And that your emotions can be invisible even to your doctor who, if he wants to, CAN see your insides. Maybe you need to let your dignity crack a little. Maybe you need to find some people with whom you can be vulnerable enough to let your biggest questions about yourself take the form of words. Maybe no one knows you need it.

And don't forget that the same is true of most everyone else. Give affirmation to people who don't ask for it. Realize when you are viewing someone as above the need for reassurance and look for ways to tell them that they are seen, valued, applauded, and loved. In your work, home, friendships, neighborhood, and church, foster an environment in which people don't need to ask for affirmation in order to receive it.

Now, just for fun, here is a list of some of the affirmations I have received lately. Please don't mistake this as a brag list. It is, rather, a tribute to the many people who speak words to me that I cup in my heart long afterward because I was wondering the opposite and needed to hear them. It humbles me to realize that, for most of these, I didn't even ask.

Carla: "You're just an incredible person." This came at a moment when I was feeling rather small in comparison to all life was asking of me at the moment.

One of my teen girls at work, as I arrived for my shift: "Becky, you getting so skinny!" I didn't notice, but what woman doesn't love to hear that?

Tatianna, a German girl I met in Ireland: "I've been watching you and wanting to meet you because you fascinate me. You remind me of a character from Pride and Prejudice." She said she wasn't sure which Bennet I resemble, but did assure me that it was one of the eldest. This is a vast relief, you will understand if you've read the book.

My dear friend Sharon sent me an incredible email yesterday: "hey, i hope you are feeling loved and significant. (cuz you really are) seriously, of all the friends i have, you are doing some of the bravest and unconventionalest stuff. I am  proud of you -i know it probably doesn't feel very shiny most of the time, and that it is mostly very "daily", but be cheered :) I think God is happy about you." I was a rather extremely shy, cautious, and introverted child, and sometimes I look at the things I want to accomplish and just want to find a nice, cozy stump in a large forest in which to hide. She didn't know it, but this was one of those days.

My supervisor at work: "Some rather nice compliments were paid you at a hiring interview. Two unit supervisors used you as a model for how the prospective employee should relate to this kids. I thought you should know." Um, wow?! I try to do my job well... and see it as less of a job and more of a challenge of loving my girls well, and loving them the way Jesus does... but I do in fact wonder if I am truly doing it well.

Bekah: "You're going to be a great mom someday. Your kids will be lucky to have you." I see parenting as the highest, truest test of a person's character and love. And, though I hope to do it well someday, don't all of us wonder if we genuinely have what it takes?

Carla's 3-year-old son: "I love Miss Becca." And I wasn't even present at the time or had just done something to deserve it. Carla told me about it later. Unless they are made to believe lies for a long period of time, kids see through disguises pretty stinkin' fast. That's why I treasure this affirmation highly.

When I started making the list, I started thinking of more and more people who have deeply affirmed me. So please don't feel left out if you're reading this and you're one of those people. Thank you. Your belief in me and your loving me help me become a better, truer version of myself. You really and truly enable me to live and love with confidence and sincerity.

Let this list inspire you to affirm the people in your life. Make a point of one-a-day, and let it become an unconscious habit.

6 comments:

ry said...

thanks, becca.
i'm just scared to death of letting folks see the vulnerable side in me.

Becca said...

Aw... aren't we all? It gets easier with practice. A little easier, that is. Maybe the "easier" has more to do with learning to trust the people with whom you are vulnerable. Either way, I said a little prayer of courage for you!

Anita said...

Prov. 31 says that a good woman is dressed with strength (and dignity). I don't know all the implications of that, but somehow strength/confidence is good even if it scares us--and others--sometimes.
About affirmation,I think a lot of people are dying inside because they--we--are starved for it. I like the idea of doing one a day and having it become 2nd nature. Big goal!

Christiana said...

I am proud to know you, even if it is via the internet. Your posts encourage me and I find solace in knowing that in this field, someone else feels similarly. :) I believe that God is using you all the time - know that He has used you through your blog.

-Christiana

Jean Bean said...

Thank you so much for writing this. I've been following your blog for a few months now, since I started my own, and I so appreciate your commitment, your compassion, and your generosity. Your words speak right to my heart.

Becca said...

Anita, I hadn't thought of Prov. 31 in relation to this. I love it! It makes me think of a uniquely feminine side to these meandering thoughts.

Christiana and Jean... Wow. Thank you both so very much for your kind comments! I just sat here for a few full minutes, trying to find words to thank you, but "wow" just kept repeating itself in my head. :) God bless you!