“I can live two months on a good compliment,” said Mark Twain.
When very young and I received a compliment, I’d blush to the roots of my natural blond hair. However, I now see that compliments need to move on – not held in store so I can feast upon my supposed “greatness.” Read further to find how compliments should move on.
As you know, we’re working our way through Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) nineteen rules for humility in this year’s columns. We’re now on the seventh which states in the language of his day: “When thou hast said or done anything for which thou receivest praise or estimation, take it indifferently, and return it to God.” He goes on to recommend “reflecting upon [God] as the giver of the gift, or the blesser of the action, or the aid of the design; and give God thanks for making thee an instrument of his glory, for the benefit of others.”
Couched within the seventh rule, I find Taylor suggesting that compliments move on and recycle back to God. This week, I’ve spent time considering compliments, and I’ve discovered at least three phases of recycling them. First, compliments help us realize our gifts and potential. Early in life, I found that a friend or colleague might recognize a talent or a personal gift of mine, one of which I wasn’t fully aware. Their compliments helped me to recognize the talent and with God’s help to nurture that talent beyond the bud stage.
As I look back over my life, I remember those who encouraged my writing. I specifically remember a high school English teacher, who asked permission to keep one of my assignments to share in future years with her classes. We were to write an epitaph for one of the fictional characters from the classic literature we’d studied that year. My teacher gave us the option of a one-page epitaph. I chose the book “Silas Marner,” by George Elliot and wrote about the book’s namesake. I received direction from that early praise, but I didn’t know to give it back to God.
Second, as we age and learn about humility, that learning doesn’t mean we know to recycle an accolade back to God. I knew in my heart, when someone praised something I’d done, that an expressed admiration didn’t solely belong to me, but I wasn’t making a practice of giving the praise back to God and thanking him. I knew that nothing I did or would ever accomplish came from my efforts alone. I had nothing to do with my birth, body, or makeup—mind, personality, or talents. At this stage, when someone congratulated me on an accomplishment, I’d stammer and mumble something about the Lord’s help, then I’d secretly file the approval, and when life turned sour, I’d drag out the compliment and gnaw on it like an old bone.
Third, when humility roots and rules, it’s easier to receive compliments. At times, we know that giving God public praise is the thing to do. I love to see public praise on television when a hero saves someone from tragedy and they choose to give God the praise for their courage or quick thinking.
A simple “Thank you” will do after receiving a compliment. If a compliment comes from a fellow Jesus follower, they know the gift isn’t yours to claim. The receiving of a compliment becomes less stressful or embarrassing when one can recycle the compliment back to God at the very moment received or at the end of the day during quiet vespers.
Our Creator assembled each unique person and designed a specific path for each to follow. In our hearts, when we turn praises back into our Father’s keeping, we perform a private act of humility. For everything we are or have comes from God.
He is the Creator.
He is the Composer.
He arranges the music.
We are instruments.
Hunger for Humility (21): “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
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