It can take a long time for a woman to figure out how to take a compliment.
You might go a whole lifetime thinking it’s plain wrong to say “thank you” when someone says you make the best pie crust, smile the sweetest smile, pen the loveliest little poems.
Your mama taught you to say thank you, clear back when you were shyly hiding behind her knees. But then you grew up and learned about God’s glory, and you got to worrying that you were stealing some of His praise with your wee little thank you.
So you stop saying thank you, and you start telling them they’re wrong.
Funny thing is, I enjoy giving compliments. A God-made encourager, I love to find the best in people, and then tell them what I see.
But I’ve done a poor job of receiving kind words in return. I’ve been allergic to compliments – partly because I didn’t think I deserved them, and partly because I didn’t know how to respond.
Then, I met a woman —
She click-clacked down a hallway at a retreat a few years ago, waving me down, like her hand was a flag up in the air. She said something really sweet about my writing. Or maybe it was my hair or my incredibly cute shoes. I don’t remember anymore.
I do remember this: My eyes darted. My tongue felt heavy. I started to deflect her words with a self-deprecating remark.
She interrupted me, putting her hands on my shoulders. Her eyes were soft, but her voice was stern.
“Jennifer,” she said, “just say thank you. It’s okay. Did you know that? You’re not robbing praise from God by saying thank you. In fact, you’re honoring God by allowing me the blessing of encouraging you.”
I hadn’t always been dismissive of compliments. I grew up with a mom who taught me good manners.
But something happened after I pursued a deeper relationship with Christ. I got the impression that if I received any praise, I was stealing God’s spotlight.
I remember when a visiting speaker came to town to share the gospel. I was fresh in my faith, and his words deeply moved me. Afterward, I weaved my way through the crowd, like a fish swimming upstream, to find the speaker near the podium.
Voice wobbly, I thanked him for his message. He shook his head vigorously. “You shouldn’t be thanking me,” he said, jabbing his index finger heavenward. “You should be thanking God.”
It felt like a rebuke. It felt strangely unkind. It felt like I’d been doing it all wrong.
For years, I stumbled through ways of responding to affirmation, always worried that whatever I said would come across as sounding super-spiritual or falsely humble.
After my encounter with Clickety-Clack Woman at the retreat, though, I felt braver. But it took years of “trying on thanks” for it to feel right on me.
I am learning that there are ways to accept praise without offending God or mankind.
I am learning that true humility doesn’t mean we wave off kind words. It doesn’t mean we apologize for who we are. Gospel humility doesn’t mean that we unleash a litany of our shortcomings in response to a praise.
True humility is genuine “thanks,” delivered with grace.
Truth is, many of us have no trouble claiming our weaknesses, but we shudder at the thought of claiming our strengths.
We don’t have to do that anymore. We are free to shine for Jesus. Because of Jesus.
We can stop ducking from the kind words of people who see God’s work in us. We can stop minimizing our strengths with words like, “Oh, it was nothing.”
What God put inside your spirit isn’t nothing. It’s a special something, intended to change the world. It’s the life of God, in you.
When we deflect kind words, we diminish the beauty set aflame by God in us.
Look, we don’t want to live our lives for man’s applause. But we don’t need to live our lives in fear of it either.
Together, we can do life differently, without fear of stealing God’s glory. We can:
1 – Release our gifts boldly into the world, knowing that whether praise or criticism comes, both ultimately belong to the Father, if we’re offering our work in obedience.
2 – Never discount our gifts by saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, really.” Our lives exist inside Christ, and Christ exists inside us. What comes out in His name is a product of what He designed us to do. We will come more alive to our Creator and our callings when we recognize that we bring value to our world.
3 – Remember that our spiritual gifts are given “so we can help each other” (1 Cor 12:7). And we are called to do them well. “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well” (Romans 12:6)
4 – Model courage to others by using our gifts to their fullest. Our boldness gives others permission to be fully themselves.
5 – If someone praises our work, let’s stop deflecting. Let’s offer thanks to the person, and to God. It’s this easy. Repeat after me: “Thank you.”
What are you most inclined to do when someone tells you they like your hair, that touching blog post you wrote, those brownies from a box that you baked for the church potluck, or the morning devotions that you delivered even though it scared you out of your ever-lovin’ mind? Is accepting a compliment hard for you?