“Look at the muscles on that guy!”
20 years later, these words still ring in my ears. It’s funny how some things from your childhood just stick with you. When I consider (much to the dismay of my dear mother) the many things that went in one ear and out the other, the seemingly random comments that take hold for life can be both amusing and surprising. Sometimes these long-lived memories are completely random. And sometimes it is because what was said, although seemingly insignificant, really did matter. They really did leave a mark.
The recollection of these words are from my days as an eight year old. In the prime of my boyhood! We had a small wooden wheel barrow, sturdy but made for kids. We were transporting potatoes from our family garden. I had the wheel barrow chucked full of these ‘apples of the earth’ and strained slightly under the weight as I wheeled them to the garage. I remember that my Grandmother was visiting that evening. I remember my father making a comment to her as he glanced in my direction. “Look at the muscles on that guy! Do you see that mom?” he boasted. “He’s growing to be a strong little man.” That was it. As simple as that.
So, why have those words stuck with me all these years? Because they were words that expressed my Dad’s pride in me. I sure didn’t realize it at the time, but from those words I received value and confidence. Who I was becoming was being recognized and celebrated.
I am convinced that very deliberate words of affirmation are necessary for the development of a healthy personality in kids. I speak to this from the experience of a son, rather than that of a father. I also speak to this from the experience of having heard from peers that they never heard “I love you,” from their fathers, much less any other overtly affirming words. This is a tragedy. Kids need to hear this. These thoughts cannot be assumed. Daughters need to hear from their dads that they are beautiful. Sons need to hear from their dads that they’re proud of them. If they don’t hear this at home in response to who they truly are then the day will come when these kids will do whatever it takes to hear them elsewhere.
In his book, Kingdom Culture, Phil Wagler points to the beautiful display at Jesus’ baptism where the Father spoke from heaven, saying “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Wagler reflects on this, saying in reference to Jesus, “He has been sent to reveal the word of life. He has come to bear the weight of the sin on behalf of those who have made themselves his enemies. He is about to face temptation by a Scripture-twisting Accuser who will use God’s Word against him in an attempt to undermine this Trinitarian foray into enemy territory. He will endure betrayal and denial, and then face a most brutal cross. How wonderfully crucial, then, that God the Father would kick-off this most selfless of acts with blessing. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Wagler, Kingdom Culture, 73).
This is a beautiful picture of a relationship between a Father and Son. As Father God sent His Son into his mission in the world, he conveyed his pride with words of love and affirmation. If these words were crucial for the God-man to hear, how essential is it that we follow this example in the midst of the brokenness and imperfection of our own family relationships?
You have no idea which of your words will take up residence in the memory of your kids for decades to come. You have no idea what seemingly insignificant comment you might make that could play a huge role in shaping his/her personality and confidence. This isn’t a matter of speaking only positive words to your kids, à la today’s over-emphasis on self-esteem. It is speaking careful, deliberate words that truly do affirm the who your child is and highlight admirable aspects of their behaviour and skills.
And so I ask, in what ways have you spoken words of affirmation over your kids this week? How have you vocalized your pride for your youngsters? Is it much easier to criticize than to compliment?
While I don’t think the size of my muscles would be a compliment I am aching to hear at this point in life, I clearly remember my dad’s pride in me. What will your kids remember?