cel·e·brate: to acknowledge and praise frequently; to honor; to hold (through words and actions) in high regard.
It was my first year as a full-time youth pastor at a great church in Southern Ohio. I was a little unsure about how I was going to lead, and also how a new, young, female, youth pastor would be received. But right at the beginning I was given a solid piece of advice about student ministry that stuck with me. It was simple but insightful.
“Teenagers will rise to the standard you give them. Typically they won’t do a hair more than is asked of them, but they also secretly crave a standard to try to rise to. The reason is the pay off—to be celebrated by the standard-setter. The words of affirmation and praise become a part of their personal identity and self-esteem.”
After eight years of working in student ministry between youth pastoring and leading a non-profit missions organization, I discovered that this piece of advice was indeed true, but only partly. The truth is it’s not just teenagers; it’s all of us.
We are all wired to rise to the standards that are laid out before us. When we’re told that these are the standards we are capable of, and we’re celebrated not merely tolerated, the best of each of us rises up.
So now I want to ask you a question: do the people you spend your valuable time with celebrate you or just tolerate you? That can be a hard question to consider, but it’s worth the effort, no matter how painful it may be. Now let me ask you a second question: are you merely tolerating or are you celebrating the people in your life right now?
Maybe your answer sounds something like, “Well as soon as they give me something to celebrate then I surely will!” The problem is that’s the wrong answer. You need to go first, and give them something to rise up to. What I mean by that is believe the best of them now. Celebrate them. Hold them by words and actions in high esteem. Their bad moments and rough seasons don’t define who they really are any more than yours do. We are all a work in progress!
The truth is we all need someone to pull on the better part of who we truly are with their words. Words are everything. They created the very world we are all traversing in. This is actually how we apply living by faith to one another. “We believe and therefore we speak”. It’s the reason words and attitudes matter. No one rises to low standards and low expectations. There is nothing to rise to, but the opposite happens when someone says, “I celebrate you because this is what I see in you; even if you can’t see it—I do.” Lifting someone else’s ceiling can bring so much meaning to any relationship.
So grab up the people in your life and celebrate them now. Don’t wait. You can do it through a phone call or a text, though face-to-face is usually the best. Sow some good seed in this area because it will come back to you!
Celebrate what is good, and good will rise up. The students in my youth ministry are all grown up now, but they are still near and dear to my heart. Though I don’t get to see them much, when I think of them I still see the best of them that I always saw, and it’s still cause for celebration.