Friday, November 11, 2011

Proverbs 27:14 commentary; too much praise

14 ¶ He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.

At first I saw this as very clearly a simple Proverb about how even something that you normally would love to hear, like approval and a blessing from a friend, could be a real nuisance if done excessively or at the wrong time. For instance, you wouldn’t care to have your friend call you on the telephone early in the morning, waking you up, to tell you how wonderful you are. In fact, you’d eventually look on that person as a pain in the neck or mentally unbalanced. In other words, your approval can become a curse rather than a blessing by being given excessively and at inopportune times.

The commentators talk about, as the earlier Proverb about “open rebuke” being better than “secret love” so does excessive verbal blessing eventually become meaningless and annoying. So, when does a blessing become a curse?

Proverbs 26:28 A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.

When blessing becomes flattery and someone is tempted to believe the excess coming from a friend’s mouth it can lead to a higher view of oneself than is warranted and then the ruin that can follow from pride. Christians are told;

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

And the warnings given in Proverbs are abundant about not thinking too highly of yourself;

Proverbs 16:18 ¶ Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. 19 ¶ Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Proverbs 25:27 ¶ It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.

Proverbs 26:12 ¶ Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.

This Proverb is a particular problem for a child. You may have a gifted child or a child who seems very intelligent emotionally. You want them to have all the opportunities to excel, to take their natural abilities and rise high with them. But, be careful about excessive praise. Give them a chance to prove themselves by their behavior and actions rather than just their potential.

When I was a child I was bookish and an avid reader. I could retain information and loved to talk about what I’d read. Certain members of my family had far too high an opinion of my potential and not enough sober realization of my limitations. As a result of these errors in judgment I was pushed too far too fast for my actual abilities. By skipping parts of grades and being placed in “gifted” groups and “honors” courses when I really didn’t have the actual ability to match the demands placed on me my emotional growth was harmed, my maturity was stifled, and I suffered a great deal.

Let me put it another way about how we live through our kids. We don’t let kids play sandlot baseball anymore. We want them to play on organized teams hoping that they’ll one day be professional superstars. We don’t just hope that our child will be able to handle college or trade school and get a decent job so he or she can support himself. As soon as we realize our child is bright we begin dreaming of them being a great doctor or lawyer, being famous and important. We push and push our children and heap praise after praise on them. I remember a friend in college who committed suicide. He had gone to college at only 16 years old, gifted beyond his years. His name was Shelton Darity. Such a nice kid. One day he drank a deadly poison whose name I can’t remember and was found in his cubicle at the math building I believe. The note he left said, “There’s nothing wrong. I’m just tired.” He always talked about the high hopes his family had for him and how he just wanted to live a normal life. But, when I went down to talk to the campus police with others who knew him, stunned and grieving, all they talked about was his great promise and the waste of his death. None of us really considered that he had been pushed too far, praised too much, and not afforded the right to just be a person.

Now, Shelton was a genius and I wasn’t so I’m not making a comparison that way. My point is that flattery, excessive approval, praise, and blessing is not necessarily a good thing. It can lead to pride or it can lead to despair, fearing that you can’t measure up to what’s expected of you.

I remember someone who used to be a preacher writing, and I can’t remember where it was or who said it, but it was someone who seemed to be gifted at speaking and putting the Bible in context but everyone “wanted a piece of him” and eventually he could not take the pressure to be perfect, to always have the next sermon be more brilliant than any previous, to be terrified of making a mistake or having people pick apart his moral failings, no matter how small. He finally gave up the ministry because he just came to believe that he would eventually let everyone down.

Many preachers and teachers have dealt with the excessive praise and blessing that becomes a curse because it is accompanied by expectations that are unreasonable and unfair. I am reminded again of the gifted child having scholarships and praise heaped upon him but not being allowed to learn and grow like a normal human being and being expected to be perfect.

So, in this respect, try to think of this Proverb the next time your child scores the home run, the touchdown, or aces the big exam, and someone tells you how they’re going to go far and should look into this or that school or program for the gifted. Be very careful about how much praise you heap on them, rising early in the morning with a loud voice. Your blessings may become a curse.

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