Reading through Proverbs 27 this morning I ran across verse 5 which says:

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. (Proverbs 27:5) 

For sure this proverb can be understood as affirming the value of a good, well-intentioned rebuke from somone who truly loves us and only wants to see us succeed in life. But that’s not the impact it had on me this morning. Instead, reading it caused me to reflect on the tragedy, the waste that is hidden love. What I’m taking away from my mediation on this passage this morning is that if I truly love and appreciate someone, I shouldn’t keep it to myself; I should let them know. 

Recently I was made aware that something affirming I had communicated to someone in an email had exercised a powerful affect upon them. Little did I know that they really needed to hear an affirming word that day. I’m glad to hear in retrospect that reading my email chased away, at least for a while, the sense of discouragement that had set up shot in their heart. 

Likewise, it was only last week that a student took the time to linger long enough after a class session to tell me how much she appreciated the course and what I was doing in it. As I expressed gratitude for the kind words I couldn’t help but let her know that they were coming to me at a good time. 

Have you ever been on either side of the affirmation equation: the one who received the encouraging words at a time when you really needed them, or the one whose affirming words to someone else were like music to their ears and like a healing balm to their hurting heart? Surely you have. 

In our book Beyond the Bliss my wife Patti and I talk about the healing power of love in the marital relationship. In the process, we share with our readers a story you may or may not have already heard. Since it wonderfully illustrates the power of affirmation, I’ll share it with you here and now. It goes like this: 

            In her memoir The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird tells of the power of words of acceptance in her own life. She was born with multiple birth defects:  deaf in one ear, a cleft palate, a disfigured face, a crooked nose, lopsided feet. As a child, Mary Ann suffered not only the physical impairments but also the emotional damage inflicted by other children. “Oh, Mary Ann,” her classmates would say, “what happened to your lip?” 

                        “I cut it on a piece of glass,” she would lie. 

            One of the worst experiences at school, she reported, was the day of the annual hearing test. The teacher would call each child to her desk, and the child would cover first one ear, and then the other. The teacher would whisper something to the child like “The sky is blue” or “You have new shoes.” This was “the whisper test”; if the teacher’s phrase was heard and repeated, the child passed the test. To avoid the humiliation of failure, Mary Ann would always cheat on the test, secretly cupping her hand over her one good ear so that she could still hear what the teacher said. 

            One year Mary Ann was in the class of Miss Leonard, one of the most beloved teachers in the school. Every student, including Mary Ann, wanted to be noticed by her, wanted to be her pet. Then came the day of the dreaded hearing test. When her turn came, Mary Ann was called to the teacher’s desk. As Mary Ann cupped her hand over her good ear, Miss Leonard leaned forward to whisper. “I waited for those words,” Mary Ann wrote, “which God must have put into her mouth, those seven words which changed my life.” Miss Leonard did not say “The sky is blue” or “You have new shoes.” What she whispered was “I wish you were my little girl.” Mary Ann went on to become a teacher herself, a person of inner beauty and great kindness.[1]

According to Mary Ann Bird, seven words of acceptance and affirmation changed her life. Wow!

Today I’m going to make it a point to prayerfully, honestly, sincerely speak some words of acceptance, affirmation and encouragement to someone in my world. I encourage you to do the same on whatever day you read this posting. After all … better is open rebuke than hidden love. Let’s not keep hidden the feelings of love and appreciation we have for those around us.

Something to think about.


[1] As cited in Thomas G. Long, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 85-86.