Originally published in Pulpit Helps, January 2001.
When we feel appreciated, we are more likely to have greater personal confidence and even security. This will invariably be reflected in our behavior. William James, the pioneer of psychology in America, once noted that perhaps the greatest human need was the need to feel appreciated. Appreciation is a powerful force in building good relationships. Strong, healthy families practice expressing and gracefully receiving appreciation. Is enough genuine appreciation being expressed in our families today? Are Christian families showing appreciation to one another?
Proverbs 16:24 says, "Pleasant words are a honeycomb. Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." We may repeat the little rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," but we know that words do make a difference. They make a difference in how we feel and they influence how we behave. Encouraging words are important relationship builders in the family and in other relationships.
Drs. Nick Stinnett and John Defrain discovered an interesting trait among the strong families they identified in their research. Strong, healthy families express appreciation to each other. They wrote, "As we scored the questionnaires and interviewed the strong families, the quantity of appreciation they expressed to each other was startling to us. We had not anticipated this finding, but it leapt out at us."
When we express appreciation to someone, especially family members, we are encouraging them and helping to instill confidence in them. What does it say to a family member when we show appreciation? It tells them they are important; that they belong; and that they are noticed. It says they are loved and wanted.
Inside a family, or group of people important to us, we develop emotional memory. If it is good, it will soothe us in our pilgrimage through life. If it is bad, it can torment us. In some families, physical or sexual abuse never occurs, but verbal and emotional abuse do. Sometimes it is not overt abuse as much as it neglecting to show appreciation. In the end, a kind of unique abuse can occur: appreciation-deprivation. It takes its toll. A ripple effect takes place in families. We usually live out what we live with, and we reflect in our lives what we have seen in our families.
God built into us the need and capacity for attachment. Attachment is good. Co-dependency is not. In families where a positive and powerful attachment occurs and appreciation is expressed, the greater the likelihood of personal interdependence and emotional health. Appreciation makes a difference in our lives.
Good families don't just happen. They are built on the foundation of godly values and they work hard at building relationships. They practice the art of honestly giving and genuinely receiving appreciation.
Someone observed that diamond miners will dig through many pounds of dirt to find one diamond, whereas we are often guilty of digging through pounds of diamonds to find an ounce of dirt in our relationships. Love chooses to look for the best. Where there is love in a family, there is appreciation. That is a trait of strong families.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the editor of The Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.