Timely words of praise can remain with you for a lifetime

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at Herald-Dispatch.com.

It was clean-up day in the church attic. It seems the insurance company had concerns about “all that junk” causing a fire in one of my father’s early pastorates.

“What do you want me to do with this thing?” a teenager hollered as he wrestled a funny-shaped mirror taller than his own frame, a large pedestal and its cradle.

“Kiss it goodbye and throw it in the truck,” someone yelled back.

“Hold it,” my father countermanded. “Take it to my office. I need something to look at myself in,” he half-teased. “Part of me liked its looks,” he later confessed.

For months, the old oblong mirror stood in my father’s office, towering about six feet and creaking in its awkward cradle. It was alternately criticized and complimented by his visitors.

One day a friend whose antique expertise my father respected dropped in and spotted the mirror. The man almost did “flip-flops,” my father reported.

“Do you know what this is?” he gasped, caressing the mirror as if it were a loved one.

My father nodded no.

“This is a cheval mirror. It’s valuable and hard to find. Name your price and you’ve got it,” he added, attempting to seal the deal.

But Dad declined his offer and instead took the mirror home, put it in the master bedroom where such mirrors belong, and pampered it properly for years to come.

A basic life-principle was at work in that incident, Dad concluded. “Praise puts possession in perspective.” His knowledgeable friend had praised his possession, giving it proper perspective — he let my father know what he had.

Sometimes we don’t know what we have until someone affirms it.

When we praise a person, we acknowledge what he has — giving encouragement and reinforcing the positives we see.

As parents, we become keen observers of our children, nurturing what gifts and talents we see. But when they grow beyond our expertise, we often rely on teachers, coaches and other knowledgeable folks to help. These professionals assist us in discovering our children’s strengths. Their assessments can affect the course of a child’s life with either compliments or criticisms.

Teachers often mark papers wrong, their red ink penning “x” at every error. But some take the time to mark things “right,” beyond the perfunctory checkmarks, with thoughtful comments that highlight strengths or encourage improvements in areas of potential. Those affirmations last well beyond that written paper.

In the sports arenas, coaches’ words also linger long after the event. Their role and expertise set them up with enormous power to influence how children perceive themselves and their potential. Their comments and actions leave impressions that often outweigh parental influence. What they say and how they say it matters.

Knowing “what we have” is an ongoing pursuit — in good times and bad. We are happiest when we are moving toward our strengths and developing our talents.

Timely words of praise help. They can be timeless in their power to encourage and inspire, granting a perspective that can last a lifetime.