I Do . . .
a lot of things
I do a lot of things at the Village including preaching, cooking, counseling, encouraging, and leading and I have noticed a few things when it comes to compliments. The first thing I notice is how slightly uncomfortable they make me and yet how much I enjoy hearing them. A compliment is a part of our being thankful and we compliment people who do something for us or who do something we value. A compliment is most often simply pointing out what we like or appreciate about what the person did, particularly when we see how they have used their gifts and calling. As my Mom used to say, “Giving a compliment doesn’t really cost you much and it gives others such pleasure.”
People will come to me and say that they really liked the sermon I preached, or the lasagna I cooked, or how much they appreciate what I told them in a counseling session and then they will add a compliment. They might say something like, “You are very good at telling stories and using humor.” or “I like how you always make things so clear for me when I talk to you.” Most of us can ride the positive energy of a good compliment for months on end.
If you want someone to change (and this is a hint for you married folks) compliment them toward what they do well. If Kathy badgered me about cooking dinner when I get home before her, I probably never would, but she was and is smart enough to tell me what a great cook I am and how thoughtful I can be about her needs and how sensitive I am towards her desire to have a good meal on the table when she walks in the door and suddenly I find myself eager to cook dinner for her. Few of us really change because someone tells us we are lousy at something. When people tell us we stink, most of us are just motivated to give up or strike back in anger. The very first sermon I preached was pretty bad, I suppose. Preaching is hard work and I wasn’t sure I could do it. But people were kind and complimentary. I would have given up if someone had been less than encouraging. Instead people told me what they liked about the sermon. In doing so they caused me to want to do more of what they complimented. I still have many flaws when I preach, but the ones I am overcoming are the ones I am being complimented out of.
I was part of a writers group in Phoenix and we would bring manuscripts to read. After reading the manuscript, we would have to sit quietly for five minutes while people said what they liked about what we had written. They had to be detailed in their compliments so that the writer could replicate what they had done well. After we spent several minutes complimenting the writer we were allowed to offer ‘things that didn’t work for us’. I always liked that language. It didn’t put down what had been written and allowed the writer to decide whether what was offered was valuable or just a quirk of the person critiquing. Mature writers listened carefully to the criticism because they wanted to improve their craft, but they were able to listen to the criticism in the context of having received a bunch of compliments.
I have gone to the store, spent several hours shopping, cleaning, cutting, chopping and dicing mountains of food, then standing over hot stoves and ovens getting the flavors and doneness just right, and served my best efforts to the Village only to hear someone say that they didn’t like what I made. People certainly have the right not to like the food, but saying so does not inspire me to want to cook for them again. It doesn’t make me long to cook what they like to eat. It actually has the opposite effect. One of the folks on a special diet recently told me how much they appreciated my effort to include as many people as possible in the meal by always serving several options. That makes me want very much to be even more inclusive.
I remember as a kid going to Mrs. Canaan’s house. She had no children and had never cooked for kids. My mother was concerned we might be ungrateful and reminded us to eat a bit of everything and to find something to compliment. Mrs. Canaan served us giant bowls of ambrosia salad with huge strings of coconut. Of all the foods on earth that I have tasted, coconut is my least favorite. As we ate it, Mrs. Canaan served us hot chocolate, which my brother and I used to wash down the ambrosia. We were greatly relieved after finishing the last bit of the salad and finishing our third cup of hot chocolate. Mrs. Canaan disappeared into the kitchen and returned with more of the salad and the pitcher of hot chocolate saying, “My, I didn’t know you boys could eat so much. Please eat the rest of this salad.” My mother always told us it was polite to compliment the host so as we left I said, “Mrs. Canaan, you sure make great hot chocolate!” From then on, every time we went to Mrs. Canaan’s house she served us hot chocolate.
Mature folks, of course, don’t need to compliment in order to get what they want. Mature people compliment because they recognize what is being done and simply want to let the person know how much they appreciate it even if it is not for their personal benefit. There are people who compliment some aspect of the meal I have cooked for the Village even though they were unable to eat it because of dietary restrictions. In their maturity they have recognized the power of eating together as a wonderful part of building the kingdom of God. Even though they can’t personally join in, they take part as best they can and compliment what has been done. I can easily get focused on my own needs and wants, but the mature among us focus on the needs and desires of others. They compliment those who build the kingdom so that they can be encouraged in the work. Good compliments are an integral part of the gift of encouragement.
Sometimes I have given compliments and then quickly taken them away. “I loved your sermon, but I don’t agree with your take on the rapture.” is not a compliment. “I love the music at the Village, but I wish we would do more hymns.” is not a compliment. “I loved the lasagna, but I wish you would have left out the mushrooms.” is not a compliment. Don’t bother to compliment someone if you are really intending to offer correction. It doesn’t soften the blow of what you will say, it only makes the contrast more stark. When I have done marriage counseling, I have invited the couple to write down ten things they liked about each other when they got married. Then I tell them to go on a ‘No Buts’ date. They have to use the list as a guide and tell their spouse those wonderful qualities she or he have without ever using the word ‘but’. They can’t say, “I love your sense of humor, but now I am sick to death of hearing your stupid jokes.” They are only allowed to say, “You have a great sense of humor. You always make me laugh.” I have seen marriages change from that simple exercise. If you chose to compliment someone, make sure you don’t take the compliment away.
The Village is chock full of great complimenters. I love how you all always think of others and how quickly you encourage people with your words. I love that you are so very mature in offering compliments to each other. Whenever you see people laboring on behalf of the kingdom of God, you are quick to praise and slow to criticize. Keep up the great work. 🙂