Every Footprint Needs Affirmation

Often life can feel like it’s one step forward and two steps back, but with a few words of affirmation, another step can be taken. Affirm the small footprints of the struggle and evoke the good to grow.

He knew many people didn’t like him. He had made commitments then broken them. His struggles were well known, and many had tried to help him, but he had burned them out. He was affirmation hungry.

There are many people out there that simply need a hug and to be told ‘You’re doing okay.’

Are you one of them?

I remember someone years ago suggesting to me that supporting people with Mental Illnesses is like seeing people taking one step forward and then two steps back.

Yes, there was some truth in this, but this person had not seen the journey underneath the relapse — the little learnings along the route of struggle and the necessity to affirm any steps taken.

Can I affirm you?

The word ‘affirmation’ has a populist movement attached to it.

Self-help gurus encourage you to have a set of affirmations that you say to yourself each day to promote new beliefs and behaviors in your life.

But I have found that the very best affirmations have come from those who have listened well to the steps forward and the slipping steps back. They keep listening and offering me encouraging truth.

  • ‘I believe in you.’
  • ‘We can do this together.’
  • ‘You’re not alone.’
  • ‘You have value.’

To affirm is to assert that something is true. There is a solid assurance, a strengthening of position.

When Sarah laughed

The bible tells the story of Abraham and Sarah and how God came to them in old age to say to them, they were to have a baby. Sarah laughs at this announcement.

It wasn’t a laugh of joy. It was a laugh of disbelief, a mocking of a gift.

She had not connected into the larger story going on. There was a dismissal of God.

They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”  Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. 

Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 

The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” Genesis 18:10-15

Sarah did not affirm the footprints of God moving toward her.

If affirming is to strengthen, then to not affirm is to weaken, to deny what is good and right. Sarah laughed at God and Abram.

What happens in you when you are laughed at?

For many of us, it will be a loss of confidence in who we are and what we do. We question whether God could be that good.

Affirmation of the footprints

I remember as a child going fishing with my father at a beach called Te Arai. We would walk along the beach with our rods and a sack of fishing gear.

His large feet pressing into the sand and me semi leaping from footprint to footprint. Then we would come to the rocky outcrop that jutted out from the beach.

He would say to me to just follow the route he was taking. I would follow the edges and ledges above roaring seas, and he would affirm me as I jumped from rock to rock. I would gain confidence with every word.

Good conversations

When we listen well, we note the footprints.

We listen for the movement of something good, and we affirm it. It’s like we bend down and firm the ground around their feet so they can keep moving onward.

Laughing, mocking, denying or rushing past will stifle the goodness that is there. We listen for the small millimeter movements of change, then we affirm them.

What this does in the other is that it releases confidence that they are being heard and when you feel deeply understood then you are more likely to share another word or two.

Good conversations evoke a confidence to speak.

In your conversations today listen for the footprints. Those places of movement where people are maybe taking one step forward but slipping back two. Listen for the struggle and affirm them for the effort made.

Spiritual Exercise

Ask God for the awareness of someone that needs affirmation, that sense that they have value and importance. Listen for the words they say and ask God to help you to notice the footprints that need firming up.

Quotes to consider

  • A man’s deepest terror is weightlessness, the absence of solid substance that others recognize and appreciate. Larry Crabb
  • Real encouragement occurs when words are spoken from a heart of love to another’s recognized fear. Larry Crabb
  • Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden. Ian MacLaren
  • To affirm a person is to see the good in them that they cannot see in themselves and to repeat it in spite of appearances to the contrary. Please, this is not some Pollyanna optimism that is blind to the reality of evil, but rather like a fine radar system that is tuned in to the true, the good, and the beautiful. When a person is evoked for who she is, not who she is not, the most often result will be the inner healing of her heart through the touch of affirmation. Brennan Manning The furious longing of God
  • Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great. Mark Twain
  • Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one. C.S. Lewis

Questions to Answer

  1. What do you need to do to affirm someone?
  2. What is it like to dis-affirmed as Sarah did to Abram and God?
  3. Have you ever been deeply affirmed? What was it like?

Further reading

I’ll Get Strong With A Little Help From My Friends

God Sets the Lonely in Families

You’re Not a Problem. It’s Not Who You Are

Barry Pearman

Photo by Sahand Hoseini on Unsplash