My seven-year-old didn’t want any part of the piano recital. He fought me on the song choice, refused to practice and balked at my insistence that he shower and put on a decent outfit.
I knew that all of this was just window dressing for the real problem: he dreaded playing in front of an audience.
Minutes before we walked out the door, he made a last ditch effort to sabotage the recital by insisting that his shirt was stained. I pointed out that the “stains” were just wet spots from washing his hands – and since when did he care about stains, anyway? But he proceeded through five outfit changes, culminating in a plaid button down and basketball shorts.
I wrestled him back into the original shirt, ignoring his wails that it was stained. In a mix of exasperation and desperation, I took the hair flat-iron I was using to straighten his sister’s hair and clamped it over the wet spots. He stood there, slightly alarmed, while the shirt sizzled and he gave me no further hassle when I ordered him to get in the van.
We entered the cavernous Catholic sanctuary and took our seats among the other families. After some initial pleasantries, the first student was called. She played her piece flawlessly, took a bow and sat back down. Then, without any warning, his piano teacher called my son to go next.
He snapped to attention, visibly startled. His eyes widened with panic and he leaned towards me, shaking his head in refusal. Just as I reached for him, ready to cajole him towards the front, something shifted in his demeanor. He set a determined look on his face, took a deep breath and walked bravely to the grand piano.
He mechanically sat down, lifted his hands to the keys and plunked out eight bars of London Bridge like his life depended on it. It took him all of 22 seconds to finish his piece and he didn’t look up from the piano once. He hesitated at the end, unsure if he was actually finished, then smiled in relief when he realized it was over.
The room erupted with applause and he walked back to his seat in victory.
I could have melted.
After the recital, I gushed over my four children and announced that we were getting milkshakes to celebrate. My son slipped his little hand in mine, looked up at me earnestly and asked, “Mom, are you proud of me the most?”
His older siblings rolled their eyes and grinned indulgently at their youngest brother. But I sensed a deep need for affirmation. He wanted to know that mommy understood how uniquely challenging this recital was for him. I kissed the top of his head, took his face in my hands and whispered, “Of course, buddy. I know you were scared. But you did it anyway. That is bravery. And I am so, so proud of you.”
His eyes twinkled and threw his arms around me in a moment of pure joy.
Every one of us has an innate desire to be seen. We want to be understood and recognized for our individual challenges and successes. We want someone to reach down, grab our face and say, “I saw that. And I am so, so proud of you.”
God knows of our deep need for affirmation. He knows it is life-giving to have encouraging words offered to one another. And as believers, we are instructed to be each-other’s cheerleaders.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:25
The trouble comes when we rely only on each-other to meet the need for acceptance and encouragement. Because humans fall short. We forget to say the kind word. We don’t notice someone’s individual effort. We say the wrong thing at the wrong time or even to the wrong person. And all of us have felt the brutal absence of needed affirmation at various points in our lives.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. ~Ecclesiastes 4:10b
Most believers acknowledge that God is a loving Father who sees us as individuals. We affirm that He is with us on every mountain we climb and that He celebrates our victories. But knowing and embracing these truths are two different things. And far to often we only look to other humans for affirmation and miss the Father’s embrace.
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. ~Psalm 149:4
Do you believe your Heavenly Father sees you? Do you believe that the hairs of your head are numbered and you are beyond precious to Him? Do you believe that you are his very favorite person and He is proud of you the most?
Just like my son turned towards me for affirmation that was guaranteed, you can reach for the Father’s hand time and time again. He will rejoice over you, celebrate you and be proud of you the most.