Walk into an average school classroom or space dedicated to an activity for young people and you will likely see affirmations covering some of the wall space. Affirmations have gained popularity over the last few years. Proponents believe that repeating these sentences to yourself over and over will do everything from improving your self esteem to making you more resilient and anything else that is positive. The problem is that while these affirmations often sound okay on the surface, if you dig a little deeper they can be not the best advice, a lie or – at worst – in direct opposition to what God wants His people to believe.
It is important to take the time with young Bible students to really break down some of the more popular affirmations they may see or hear. Are they true all of the time? Are they wishful thinking restated as an absolute promise? Are they good if taken one way, but hurtful if taken another? Are they promoting ungodly or even sinful attitudes?
I recently did this as an activity with a group of teens and it generated an interesting conversation. For the exercise, I created a list of 40 affirmations. Some I had taken from the most popular affirmations you frequently see. I added a few scriptures (or that people think are scriptures, but aren’t) people use to encourage others. I tried to have a mix of ones that were good, so-so and harmful from God’s perspective.
One of the most interesting conversations revolved around the statement, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. Absolutely, a misquote of a scripture talking about temptation and not bad events, the teens had a great debate before I revealed it was not in scripture and not necessarily even true – especially depending upon how one defines ”more than you can handle”.
One caveat. Make sure you put the instructions at the top of the sheet, making it clear some of the affirmations are actually harmful. Young people tend to hold onto papers and may forget some of the affirmations were not good ones to use when they find the sheet again in a few years.
Finally, encourage them to find scriptures if they want to use affirmations and make sure they are taken in context. This not only gives them more helpful messages, but encourages them to memorize scripture without them even realizing they are memorizing it. Discussing affirmations is a great way to reinforce God’s principles and commands for living life in a non-threatening way.