I like compliments. Whether your single or married, male or female, we are all susceptible to a little ego boost via a genuine compliment or some flattery. The value I place on the compliment depends on who gives it. Honestly, sometimes I give these compliments more value than I ought to. If the person complimenting me is someone I find attractive, care about, or is in a position of influence, I internalize the compliment differently. For those of us who enjoy, and to some degree interpret love through words or affirmation, this can become sticky territory. If I hang on someone’s words or opinion of me too much, I can start to change my behavior in order to try to retain the attention. I attach an unhealthy amount of value to the other person’s view of me. Don’t get me wrong–there is nothing wrong with giving or taking a compliment, but when I tip the scales and start needing them I enter the danger zone. When I let the desire for affirmation at work, performance at the gym, or attention from men become my driving motivator, I tip the scales and shift the focus away from God and on to myself. I want the affirmation to make me feel safe, secure, loved.
William Vanstone, in his book, The Phenomenology of Love writes,
“[…]love is conditional: You give it only as long as the person is affirming you and meeting your needs. And it’s non-vulnerable: You hold back so that you can cut your losses if necessary. But in true love, your aim is to spend yourself and use yourself for the happiness of the other, because your greatest joy is that person’s joy. Therefore your affection is unconditional: You give it regardless of whatever your loved one is meeting your needs. And it’s radically vulnerable. […] You spend everything, hold nothing back, give it all away.”
My love is false when I give it only when I know I’ll get what I want in return. When I do it’s conditional and non-vulnerable because I’m not loving the person simply for him or herself, I’m loving the person partly for what I’m getting. Take flirting, for example. I know this is where some of you will gasp and claim not to flirt–don’t bother; we all do it at some point. There are many forms of flirting, some more innocent than others. If it makes you feel better, you can call it spiritual flirting, but you flirt so just admit it. There is nothing wrong with it either, in the right context, but it comes down to motive.
Ps 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.”
My problem is this: the selfish type of love or affirmation I can seek some times is very fragile and an illusion. The more I chase it, the more I want it, the more I fall short because I base it on performance or on someone’s perception of me. Since we are human, our perceptions and tastes change–sometimes even daily. One day I can be my boss’ favorite and the next I can’t do anything right. One day the man or woman you are crushing on seems to be all about you and the next day he or she isn’t. A friend of mine refers to it as, “hustling for your worth.” As Christians, we are still susceptible to the hustle but are freed from the power it can hold over us. It’s about being able to align ourselves and our self worth with something and someone bigger.
Timothy Keller writes, “What we need is someone to love us who doesn’t need us at all. Someone who loves us with radical, unconditional and vulnerable love, someone who loves us just for our sake. If we receive that kind of love, that would so assure us of our value, it would so fill us up, that maybe we could start to give love like that too.[… ] Within himself, God has forever had all the love, fulfillment and joy that he could possibly want. He has all the love within himself that whole human race lacks. And the only way we’re going to get any more is from him.”
1Peter 1:8 “You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be salvation of your souls.”
The security of Jesus’s love enables me to need less and to love more. Timothy Keller writes, “True love, love without neediness, is generative; it is the only kind that makes more of it self as it goes along.”
God’s love is generative, perfect, and radically vulnerable. When I internalize that, experience it, I stop being manipulative in my love, and I develop the patience and security to reach out and start giving a true love to other people. I can stop hustling and simply strive to be my best because of God within me. His opinion never wavers, his love is constant and it is the source out which I can give. When I root myself in his Word and the knowledge of who he is, it restores my perspective. I will still have days when I waver or bat my eyelashes, but it’s about catching myself when I start to slip into the danger zone and adjusting accordingly.
2Peter1:3-11 “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”