November 13, 2005
It is easier for us to see what is negative rather than what is good. We tend to focus on what is wrong rather than on what is right. We find ourselves more willing to criticize than to praise. Just look at today’s gospel, the Parable of the Talents. What is it about? If I were to take a survey here this morning, I would wager that the majority of people would say, “This parable tells us that God will punish us if we do not use our talents.”
We focus in on the negative. We focus on the one servant who buried his money out of fear and received his master’s wrath. But there were two servants who used their talents and who receive their master’s praise. So if you look at this parable simply from a quantitative standpoint, it tells us that God is more likely to praise us for our successes than criticize us for our failures. Or to say this in another way: there is more affirmation in the parable than there is judgment.
So if we take this positive approach to the parable, what does it say about affirmation? Two things: that we should take it in and we should spread it around. Clearly the master in the parable stands in the place of God. Therefore, this parable is telling us that God affirms us. God is pleased with us. God takes delight in the way that we use the talents that have been given to us. If God is affirming us, how important it is that we take that affirmation in. For you see, affirmation is power. Affirmation can change us. It causes us to grow. Just look at the way that the servants grow in the parable as they are affirmed by their master. They once were only capable of a few things, but now they are trusted with more. They once were unsure, but now they are confident and enter into their master’s joy.
Because God is affirming us, we must let that affirmation in. We are always inclined to look at the negative parts of our life, our failures. But there is no power in our failures. The power comes from accepting God’s affirmation and love. God is affirming us every moment of our lives. God is saying to us, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant. You are a good parent. You are a good spouse. You are a good grandmother, a good sister. You have used your talents generously, faithfully, and creatively. You have been strong and a support to others.”
It is especially important it is to take in God’s affirmation when we have experienced a setback in our lives—after an argument with a friend, after we have let down someone that we love, if we experience divorce. In these moments more than others, we have to claim that God is still affirming us, saying to us, “You are still good, because I have made you good. You are still talented, because I have given you talents. You are still loved, because you are my daughter or my son.” God’s affirmation of us is the source of power and life. We must take it in.
It is also important to spread affirmation around. For when we give affirmation, we act like God. We act like God when we affirm others, especially those who are closest to us. It is all too seldom that we praise the people with whom we live. We certainly love them, but the way we show love can often be counterproductive. Sometimes we think that the way to express love is to warn others, to save them from their mistakes. Parents frequently choose to love in this way. They can base their loving on warnings: “Don’t do this. Never forget to do that. Do not make this mistake.” They are motivated, of course, out of a desire to protect their children. They seek to make their sons and daughters better people. There is no power in emphasizing the negative. Power comes from affirmation and love. When was the last time that you praised your daughter or your son? When was the last time that you said, “I am so proud of you. You do this so well.” Can you imagine the power that is released when such affirmation comes from a mother or father? When is the last time that you paid a compliment to your spouse, or to a close friend? When have you said, “You amaze me at how well you do this. How patient you are, how generous you are, how creative you are.” Can you imagine the sense of power and healing that are released when someone who loves you affirms you in that way? We are truly like God when we decide to spread our praise around.
It is always easier to see the negative, to recognize what needs to be changed. Power and life, however, come from affirmation. This leaves us with two questions: How will I let in the affirmation God has for me, and who will I affirm today? My suggestion is that for the rest of this liturgy you put out of your mind any problems or failures or shortcomings, and simply recognize that God is present here among us. Open your hearts to receive the love, the delight, the pleasure that God takes in you. God will never stop loving you. You are God’s beloved son or daughter. Then, once you are filled with God’s affirmation, allow the Holy Spirit to suggest to you three people who you will affirm this week. Once you have identified those people, affirm them. Once you have affirmed them, repeat the process again. Make it a pattern of life. Become a person of affirmation—taking it in, spreading it around.