Have you ever received a compliment that didn’t sound like one or one that caused you to swell with pride so much you thought you would explode and yet you acted unaffected? All humans love positive affirmation even those of us who pretend otherwise, or those who do not always accept it graciously.
I have noticed that most people react awkwardly when faced with a compliment – often mumbling a thank you, changing the topic or acting rather flustered. I wonder if it is a false sense of modesty that gets us acting or feeling this way. Perhaps it is the belief that to just accept a compliment without any question (or drama) would suggest that we are accepting it as pure fact. This would in turn suggest possible pride which – heaven help us – might be a sin!
In my own experience, I have been blessed to be considered attractive by many people and be compared to many beautiful ladies. I therefore have had ample opportunity to respond to compliments about my physical appearance. These however are the ones that used to make me the most uncomfortable – especially when I was much younger. See, growing up, I was taught to believe that receiving a compliment about my physical person meant that I had in some way attracted attention to myself – which was sinful. Thankfully I have come a long way from that self deprecating way of thinking. These days however, while I would graciously welcome all compliments, (wink!) I believe I would value a compliment about my physical appearance less than one about a personality characteristic that I had worked hard to achieve. Yes – with age comes wisdom!! With age also comes fewer compliments!!??… And then there are kids – nothing like kids to keep your feet planted firmly on the ground – or quick sand!?
During my youth, when my family moved to India, I struggled with learning Hindi but well remember one small, short story after all these years, entitled “Bechara, Balla Admi”. The English translation is “Poor, Good Man”. The story is told about this “poor good man” – so labeled by the villagers for multiple reasons. It went on to say that even if he wanted to be “bad” he couldn’t because he had to live up to the “good” image foisted on him by the community. So, the author opined, his compliment was really no blessing but a burden.
Many moons ago, when I was just twenty, I was paid a compliment that is by far the best in my lifetime, to date. A young man, who had a great devotion to Mother Mary, told me he had always asked her to provide a living example of herself here on earth and he believed she finally answered him when he met me. Little me (I was even littler than I am today!) was moved to tears when I heard this and I wondered if I deserved this super compliment but nevertheless was eager to claim it. When he explained why he believed this, he did not reference any of my physical attributes either. While I cherished this compliment, I was reluctant to disclose it to anyone because at face value, it would just seem too boastful. Then a couple of years ago, I was reminded of this compliment of compliments when a fellow parishioner who is an artist, told me she wanted to paint the “Virgin Mary” and would like me to be the model for the painting… Fast forward to recently, my daughter saw an old picture of me and told me it reminded her of the “Mother Mary in the movie Jesus of Nazareth”. (Trust me, most of the time; I can count on her to keep me humble!) Even though the picture was old, after I calmed my inwardly, extremely flattered self down, I once again recalled my all time treasured compliment from so many years ago. Despite the latter two compliments being about my physical attractiveness, they reminded me of the significance of being compared in any way, to Mary the mother of God. A lady who epitomizes all that is the beauty of unadulterated Womanly Grace.
In the movie Jesus of Nazareth, Olivia Hussey portrayed Mother Mary in the breathtaking splendor of youth and innocence, grace in suffering and her fidelity to God no matter the situation. I can honestly say in my own life with all its joys and challenges, there have been many an occasion when I have fallen short of this glory and grace and I have reached out in despair to that beauty. Yes – that one super compliment has been such a blessing to me because it has brought with it a responsibility – a “burden” – to live up to the image of the one Lady I am called to emulate.