I wrote last week about 'the power of positive touch' - looking at one of the '5 Love Languages' which Gary Chapman describes in his book. This week I thought I'd write about the one which is my primary love language - what Chapman calls 'words of affirmation'.
When I first read the book and did the little quiz at the back to find out the order in which the 5 Love Languages apply to me, I'd never given this issue any thought at all. It had never occurred to me that the different ways in which love could be expressed or received would have any particularly different impact on people. My score came out as showing Words of Affirmation to be my love language - a long way ahead of any of the others!
It was years ago that I first read the book and since then I've come to realise that it really does make a lot of sense - and knowing this about myself really helps!
Words matter hugely to me. I've always loved words. I love writing, and reading. I also love preaching and teaching. I try to use words carefully. I sometimes speak off the cuff, but more often I carefully prepare what I'm going to say, spending time crafting each phrase and sentence. I remember words - things I've heard in sermons or during conversations; song words; snippets from films or novels.
When I wrote my book a couple of years ago I weighed each word very carefully. Words have great power - they can bless or hurt; criticise or encourage; thank or reject; teach or stifle.
I've known for a very long time that the saying "sticks and bones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was utter nonsense. If I didn't know it before, I learnt it the hard way at school, when a few people used a few words, for quite a long time, to hurt me a very great deal. Because if course, if you're someone who remembers the good words, then you're also going to remember the bad ones. Words that people have used to hurt me or criticise me never leave me. They continue going round and round my head for a long time after they've been spoken - and going round and round my heart for longer still.
Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, I'm much better at remembering the negative words than the positive ones - maybe we all are.
Because Words of Affirmation are my primary love language, I'm only really able to feel loved and appreciated when positive words are used. For instance, you might buy me a lovely present, but no card. I'm afraid though I'll feel more loved by the person who writes me a beautiful message in a card but doesn't give me a present at all! (It may be a mistake to admit this publicly. Maybe I'll never be bought a present again. I do like presents too, honest...). It's true though - I just love cards and letters and emails and texts with kind, encouraging, appreciative words. I have a habit of keeping cards and letters which have meant a lot to me - I have boxes full of them. and although I hardly ever look at them, each one means a huge amount to me. I would move quickly to save them if my house was burning down!
I write a lot of cards to people myself. It's one of the quirks of the Love Languages that we often show love in the way we like to receive it - so I have a habit of using lots of Words of Affirmation with others, even though I'm well aware that if it isn't also their Love Language, they won't be that interested in it!
I've been reflecting lately on what it looks like to be a single person, who lives alone, whose Love Language is Words of Affirmation. Obviously people around me give me words of affirmation - friends, colleagues, people at church - and that's great. But I wonder whether for me, especially as an extrovert, one of the losses is immediately after an event or a meeting or a service or whatever, when I really just need someone to tell me I did well. Or even just on a day to day basis, needing someone to tell me they value me and what I've done.
I guess because of that I massively appreciate it when it does happen - so huge thanks to the colleague this week who emailed me not 5 minutes after a difficult meeting had ended, to tell me I'd done a great job.
I'm aware in this area there's the potential for sin (as in all of life!) - I don't want to become so reliant on Words of Affirmation that I become vain or proud or needy. But nevertheless there's a right awareness I think, of who we are, and how we are made, and a recognition of what we need. And of course it's a godly and appropriate thing to thank and encourage one another.
Perhaps we all need to consider how we use our words towards others (and towards ourselves). If you're a fellow WoA person like me - may you be blessed by words far more than you are hurt by them. You're doing great!