The end of May coincided with the end of the Giro d'Italia. For those who don't know, which is probably most of you, it is one of cycling's three largest stage races, taking place during most of the month of May. (The Tour de France is the largest stage race, taking place beginning July 2nd.) During the Giro, Alberto Contador, who is right now the best stage racer in the world, dominated the race, winning stages and gaining time on his opponents during many stages. He would take home the pink jersey as overall winner of the race.
Notable during this race were a couple of occasions that he didn't take the opportunity to win stages. He literally gave up the chance to win during the day (recognizing he would likely win over the totality of the race) so that he could allow another individual, either someone who had made major efforts on the day, or a former teammate of his, to take the victory on that day. Here is one of those moments, when he catches his former teammate Paolo Tiralongo and allows him to win on the day (beginning about three minutes in).
This post is not to discuss the merits of Contador (who has a shady past from a sporting perspective), or to discuss cycling in general. This post is to show the desire in humanity to acknowledge a job well done, however one may acknowledge it.
Jess and I have recently been reading through Sam Crabtree's Practicing Affirmation which indicates that affirmation of others is biblical and essential to our relationships with others and God. When we affirm others, it builds them up as individuals and affirms their status as image-bearers of God. This affirmation, though, is no mere ego-booster. It is a reward (a carrot of sorts) for those who are doing as God would have them. While Contador was merely affirming these other men as cyclists, when we as Christians affirm people, we should affirm them as image-bearers of God. Even those who are not Christians still bear the image of God (see Genesis 9:6).
The key to practicing affirmation in a godly way is to affirm the work of God in a person. For the Christian, this is easy. To borrow a tag-line through my friend Joel, it could be as simple as "Go God through Joel!" or "God is really helping you grow in patience." For the child, it looks much the same, though with an underlying recognition that the child is not yet in Christ (in most cases). For the non-Christian, this is a little bit more tricky. For someone who is open to spiritual matters, the comments could be similar to the statement "I believe God is really helping you to be more patient." For someone who is not open to such matters, or for the teachers in the public school system, it's a little more difficult.
Throughout it all, though, the recognition must be on the fact that the impetus for change is not in the individual person, but in the grace of God. As Paul so eloquently stated in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "By the grace of God I am what I am." It is only by God's grace we are who we are, and His abundant grace in us should be affirmed for His glory. Paul is an example of consistent affirmation. Perhaps Philippians 1 is the best example of this, where Paul grounds so much of what positive things he has to say about the Philippians in the work of God in Christ. When our affirmations look like this, we honor the person (which is key and deserved), but we more importantly honor the God behind it all.