The Love Language of Affirmation

Scripture: Song of Solomon 7: 1-13
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
February 14, 2016

What does a pastor do when the first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day?  Upon initial consideration, the two days seem to be diametrically opposed with no opportunity for overlap.  With ashes lingering on our foreheads, Lent is a time for repentance, solemnity, denial, and introspection.  Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, is about passion between lovers.  Exuberant outward expressions of love for family and friends. We often give chocolate to loved ones; yet, our loved ones often have given up chocolate for Lent. So, what does a pastor do when the first Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine’s Day?  I think that in my 20 years of ministry, this is the first time I have come across this dilemma.  Therefore, I brought this perplexing situation to our Worship Area Leaders, Barb and Barbie.  Should we ignore that it is Valentine’s Day – after all, it is not a religious holiday?  Should we ignore that it is the first Sunday of Lent and begin our true Lenten journey on the second Sunday of Lent? Neither of those options felt right.  We came up with a third option.  Why not embrace that the first Sunday of Lent is Valentine’s Day and lead a Lenten sermon series centered on love?  The author of the Christian faith wanted love to be the distinguishing characteristic of his followers.  

There you have it – during this Lenten journey we will focus on love and the practicality of how to love one another more fully.  I will be using Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, as a starting point.  The five love languages are affirmation, touch, quality time, gifts and service.  Today, we look at the love language of affirmation.

Sharing affirmations at the beginning of relationships, particularly romantic relationships, flows naturally.  One comedian describes the stages of a cold like this.

In the first year of the relationship:  “Sugar Dumpling, I’m really worried about you.  You’ve got a bad sniffle and there’s no telling about these things with all the terrible viruses that are going around these days.  I’m taking you to the hospital, dear, where I’ve reserved a private room for you.  I know the food’s lousy, so I’ll bring your meals in from Joe Greensleeves, Mission Inn, Isabellas.  I’ve already made all the arrangements with the floor superintendent.”

Second year of the relationship:  “Listen, Darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough and I’ve called the doctor to rush right over.  Now you go to bed and I’ll take care of everything.”

Third year of the relationship:  “Maybe you’d better lie down, Honey.  Nothing like a little rest when you’re feeling lousy.  I’ll bring you something.  Do we have any canned soup?”

Fourth year of the relationship:  “Now look, Dear, be sensible.  After you feed the kids, do the dishes and mop the floor, you’d better get some rest.”

Fifth year:  “Why don’t you take a couple aspirin?”

Sixth year:  “If you’d just gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal all night. . .”

Seventh year:  “For Pete’s sake, stop that sneezing!  What are you trying to do, give me pneumonia?”

Ah. . . the stages of love!  Yes, we do really well with affirmation at the beginning of a relationship, but sometimes we forget how important affirmation is by the seventh year.  In our scripture passage today, the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, speaks of two who are experiencing the electrifying, intensifying early stage of love.  The Song of Songs makes a Harlequin romance novel seem mild and tame in comparison.  The book just does not seem to fit with the rest of scripture and it has caused great difficulty for rabbis.  Even as late as fifty years after the death of Jesus, a council of rabbis could not decide if the book was holy or not.  Some thought that the book belonged in the scriptures; others noted that the book was being sung in brothels around the countryside.  Needless to say, it was the last book to be accepted into the Old Testament.  Many Christian theologians have been embarrassed by the book and have either ignored it or tried to interpret it as a symbol for something else.

What precisely is the problem with the Song of Songs?  Is it that we don’t understand the book?  No, the problem is the exact opposite.  We know exactly what the words in the Song of Songs means – we know the body parts mentioned in this book.  The man describes his beloved’s attributes, beginning with her feet and working his way up to her head.  He speaks of his beloved’s body parts that we don’t typically talk about in church and then sensually says, “I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches.”  We understand all too perfectly the metaphors he is using.  And then she responds, “Come let us go into the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded; whether the grape blossoms have opened; and the pomegranates are in bloom.  There I will give you my love.”  We know that she is speaking of a lot more than grape blossoms and pomegranates.  This is more than simply a Sunday stroll in the garden; there is something here that is sweeter than the grapes that produce wine.  There is no doubt that this is an explicit and erotic passage.  Needless to say, this passage is rarely preached from the pulpit and so many ministers just pretend that this book does not exist.  Or as many claim, this book is just a metaphor for the relationship between God and the church.  And you can certainly interpret it that way if you like, but in all honesty, I believe that Song of Songs is in the Bible to affirm that sexuality and spirituality are intimately tied together.

So, let’s see how well you know your Bible.  If you believe that following affirmation is in the Song of Songs then I would like for you to raise your hand.  Here we go:

Your belly is like a heap of wheat.

Your navel is like a deep well.

Your hair is like a flock of goats.

Your teeth are like a flock of sheep.

Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon.

You are kisses are like the best wine, gliding over my lips.

All of these statements come directly from the Song of Songs.  You may or may not want to use some of those affirmations in your Valentine’s Day cards today. Your spouse may not react favorably if you tell her that her nose is like the tower of Lebanon or that his teeth are like a flock of sheep.  I am sure those were lovely compliments in that day and age and place – but it doesn’t work so well in Redlands, California in 2016.  

Regardless of whether you are sharing affirmations with a spouse, lover, friend, child, parent, here are some guidelines to remember.

Words are important.  If “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, then a compliment a day may just keep the therapist away.  When your loved one does something you appreciate, let the person know.  “Tony, I really appreciate you taking out the trash.”  Not, “Tony, about time you take out the trash.  The flies were going to carry it out for you.”  Look for your loved one’s strengths and tell him / her how much you appreciate those strengths.

Tone is important. Sometimes our words say one thing, but our tone of voice says something completely different.  Normally, a loved one will interpret a message by our tone of voice rather than the words we use. “I love you” said with tenderness sounds very different than “I love you?” with a question mark.  Pay particular attention to the tone of the affirmation.

Our facial expressions when giving a compliment also make a difference.  What does Rumi say?  “Here is a relationship booster that is guaranteed to work:  Every time your spouse or lover says something stupid make your eyes light up as if you just heard something brilliant.”  Great words of advice – especially for the person who responds well to affirmation.

Compliment your loved one in the presence of others.  Chances are he / she will work hard to live up to the reputation.  

There is a beautiful flower in each person.  Our words of affirmation help that flower to blossom or as the Song of Songs says, “the vine to bud, the grape blossom to open, the pomegranate to bloom.”  Happy Valentine’s Day!  Happy First Sunday of Lent! I guess the two have more in common than I ever imagined, especially if we let love be our center.