“The 5 Love Languages – Affirmation”

March 29, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
March 29, 2020

The 5 Love Languages – Affirmation
Proverbs 18: 20-24

Last week, Paul ended his sermon on the Love Language with a vision of a time when we will be able to join together again in a physical way and be able to join hands, be in close proximity, hug, sing together, and worship together in one place. What a glorious day that will be. One of my colleagues said this week that it will be Easter Sunday when the church is together again… Easter may or may not be April 12th – it may be April 26th or May 10th or June 7th – but Easter will be the day the church is finally full of people again!

Today is the last of our sermons on the 5 Love Languages and it is about a Love Language we can practice even when we are socially distancing: Words of Affirmation. Gary Chapman writes about this love language early in his books because it is a primary way to love… to express words that build another person up. Solomon, the ancient author credited with Hebrew wisdom literature wrote, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

In our traditional word for today, there is a play on words (although you won’t catch it because of the English translation). This is a Hebrew trio of sayings that all begin with the same letter. The imagery is playful and punning, as if one can eat words that then go down into the belly. In fact, speech can produce a sort of fruit that goes into the belly to be enjoyed deeply. This is the reading from Proverbs 18…

From the fruit of the mouth one’s stomach is satisfied;
the yield of the lips brings satisfaction.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
He who finds a wife finds a good thing,
and obtains favor from the LORD.
The poor use entreaties,
but the rich answer roughly.
Some friends play at friendship
but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. Proverbs 18:20-24

Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love. They are best expressed in simple, straightforward statements like:
• You look sharp in that outfit
• You must be the best cook in the world
• I really appreciate the work you put in on that project
• Thanks for getting that job done. I don’t take your effort for granted.
Verbal compliments are far greater motivators than nagging words. As I write this, I realize that I am preaching to myself in this regard.

All of us need encouragement. What we may forget is that the people around us need encouragement as much or more than we do. The word encourage actually means “to inspire courage”. When we encourage another, we are inspiring courage within them whether they are our children, our family members, our co-workers, or our friends. Who wouldn’t want to inspire courage among those with whom we live and work? That’s what it means to share words of encouragement.

Encouragement requires empathy and seeing the world from another person’s point of view. First, we must consider what is important to the other person. Then, we can give that person encouragement that says –
– I know.
– I care.
– I am with you.
– How can I help?
We are trying to show that we believe in that person and in his/her abilities. We are giving credit and praise. This is not manipulative; it is simple acknowledgement of what we believe is possible. We are inspiring courage in the person we care about.

Psychologist William James said that one of the deepest human needs is the need to feel appreciated. Words of affirmation will meet that need in many people. Here are some tips:
1. Be specific. Effective praise needs express precisely why that person makes a difference. Global praise like “you did a good job” doesn’t really mean a lot to someone. However, if you can specify what job the person did and why they did it well “I like the way you answered the phone in a cheerful tone and offered to help the customer with their concern” encourages that behavior to be repeated.
2. Affirm someone’s accomplishments. Thank people for what they have done well or what they have achieved. This is the motivator behind rewarding children for their grades and for participation in sporting activities or musical ensembles. Take it further and offer verbal praise to your loved ones for the things they do every day.
3. Offer verbal thanks for people’s character. Traits like self-disciple, perseverance, honesty, integrity, patience, humility, kindness, unselfishness, etc. are qualities that should be highly valued. It is important to observe the contribution a person is making by being who they are. How often do we say to our siblings – old or young – how thankful we are for their character? What about our parents or our spouses? Our adult children?
4. A slightly different way to think about this is to focus on positive personality traits. Is a person optimistic, organized, logical, intuitive, a planner? If you can affirm that personality pattern, it will highlight and affirm their contribution to the office or relationship.
5. Another way to offer words of encouragement is a personal, one-on-one conversation. My family, including our grown children, have a daily text message chain. It is one of the highlights of my day to receive messages, videos, short snip-its of conversation all day long from the group. We also call each other, but the text chain is primary. It is also funny. The text chain is inside family humor. We bring up stuff that only makes sense to us, pictures from 20 years ago, stories from the kids’ childhood, nicknames, etc. It dawned on me several months ago that one of my sons’ love languages was “Words of Encouragement” and that he doesn’t feel very loved in our family because we are always joking around. The rest of us have pretty good self esteem and we get our needs met in other ways – but this son needs words of encouragement to fill his love tank. So, I called him for the specific purpose of telling him that I think he is a terrific adult, a good husband and provider, an honorable person, a loving son. I gave examples of why I was proud of him and why he was important to me. You would have thought I wrote a check for a million dollars to him. I could tell there were tears in his eyes when he thanked me for the call. Now, I end every call with “I love you” and love is a frequent word in our family language – but that specific call with words of encouragement made a difference to him. I will start repeating it now that I know how much he needs to hear words of affirmation.
6. Some people also appreciate hearing words of affirmation in front of others or public affirmation. Others do not. Each person is different – it is important to learn to best reach out to those who are being honored because it can backfire! 40-50% of employees, for example, do NOT want to receive recognition in front of a large group.
7. Another important aspect of using Words of Affirmation is that they must be sincere. If they are perceived as being hollow or inauthentic, they will not be received well and can cause strain on the relationship.

There they are – the 5 love languages:
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Receiving & Giving Gifts
Acts of Service
Physical Touch
You may have 1 or 2 primary love languages. It is your responsibility to communicate what your love language is to those around you so that they know how best to fill your love tank. They shouldn’t have to guess. Of course, all of us need some parts of each love language. Just because your primary love language may not be gifting, it is still nice to get a gift on your birthday or Christmas! Just because you may not have acts of service as your primary love language, you may still appreciate it when someone brings you a cup of coffee or mows your lawn! We can receive love in any language – its just that there are languages that really speak to us more than others.

In this time of social isolation, it is even more important than ever to reach out to one another in love. Take time this week to speak words of support, encouragement, and love to people you meet. Offer words of affirmation to the people working in the grocery stores and doctor’s offices, to people you talk to on the phone, and even to the people you’ve been shut in with and who are annoying you because of too much confinement. For “death and life are in the power of the tongue”.

Resources Used:
“The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary”. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2015.
Chapman, Gary & White, Paul. “The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace; Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People”. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 2019.
Chapman, Gary. “The Five Love Languages; How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate”. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 2004.
Chapman, Gary. “The 5 Love Languages; Singles Edition”. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 2017.