He was driving me back to my house on 59thSt. in his brand new truck that he’d washed and cleaned for our first date. In the midst of awkward pauses followed with careful conversation that danced around the edges of prom, homecoming, and life beyond senior year, I timidly asked, “why are you driving so slow?”
He had tempered his unnecessary horse power all the way down to around 10 mph. Losing one mph every few feet until we were barely moving at all down my long familiar street. Beneath his Bieber hair swoosh he turned stoplight red and mumbled out one of the sweetest sentiments I’ve ever received, “Once I get you home, you’ll get out of the car, and the date will be over…and I don’t want this moment to be over.”
I go back to that passenger seat every now and again in my mind to remember how honored that little moment made me feel, and how I’ve carried that with me for so many years.
Somewhere along the way in dating and relationships in general, we subliminally learn to keep tender thoughts like this to ourselves. We shut away how we feel in order to compete well in the power struggle and mind games. To let someone know how excited we are about them would be to lose all ground we’re standing on and surrender. Because what if they don’t feel the same way? Or what if they use that information against us? Or what if eventually things end, and we laid out all our feelings to be tread on?
As a society, we are really good at being angry. We are really good at being upset, offended, mad, aggressive, and confrontational. We are excellent at letting each other know where we’ve messed up. We are wonderful score keepers in the game of grievances. To compliment someone may be to forgive their past, present, or future debts against us, so instead we critique, criticize, and tear down under the name of “being honest.”
Although I am a big believer in honesty and that confrontation, when done correctly, actually brings a deeper intimacy between the two people who struggled well together… there is sweetness I feel we’ve lost as a we’ve grown up.
Being vulnerable and saying exactly how wonderful we find another person, in a moment and in a way that carries weight and genuineness, builds up the sweetest stock of affection between us. Learning to compliment well, in a way that brings honor to the other person in public or in private, is the greatest offering of kindness we can give, because it does cost us something: our pride. It costs us our place on the ladder we often climb in relationships to see who is the alpha. By complimenting the other person, we are laying down our defenses, and allowing them to know that we are honored by their presence.
We are switching the tone of conversation from, “you should be with me because I am so great,” to “I want to be with you because YOU are so great.”
When I stepped down out of his Ford and walked into my house I didn’t feel insecure. I didn’t lay awake that night and wonder, “Did I say the right things? Did he have fun? Did he like me?” I didn’t question myself because he had laid down his pride in order to make me feel wanted, secure, and valuable. That is the greatest gift we can give to the people we care about.
At my church we do something similar. Our Elders and pastoral staff have a tradition of honoring a church member before they begin their sermon. Most of the time they cite Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor,” and then they choose a person who has been on their heart or mind that week to publicly compliment. It isn’t a performance review or a “you were the best Christian this week, congrats,” kind of thing. It comes from an authentic place of wanting each other to feel known and loved. To let our congregation know that they are seen and appreciated by their community. It is a tradition that I believe should extend beyond church walls.
My challenge to you this week is to build up affection with someone you love by complimenting them well in a way that makes them feel honored. Lose your pride so someone else can gain some confidence. Say what you mean, and mean what you say so that the people in your life can return to those moments of vulnerability when they are doubting themselves. Outdo one another this week in showing honor.