Swansong: A Reflection 

I recently reread Jo-Anne Berthelsen’s new book, Swansong. I had already read it as an endorser, but when I received a paperback copy hot off the press, I just had to read it again! (Ah, the tactile pleasure of reading a tangible book. Who’s with me?)

Berthelsen’s exhortations toward words of affirmation resonated with me. Many of us are accustomed to words of non-affirmation from ourselves and others: criticisms, put-downs, insults, unfair judgements and reminders of our failures. Even though God himself speaks in words of encouragement, these can be difficult to hear above the constant cacophony of internal discouragement.

It takes skill and practise (and a whole lot of grace) to block out those all-too-familiar voices of criticism and instead shift our listening to God’s encouraging voice. It can be hard to remember that God is not nitpicking at us but instead delights in us—especially if we have not grown up with role models of delighted affection. 

It takes skill and practise (and a whole lotta grace) to shift out listening to God’s encouraging voice.

It also takes courage. Allowing God to unravel our self-beliefs takes a huge helping of vulnerability. We all have beliefs about our core selves, the person we truly believe we are, and they are usually unhelpful: I am a failure, I am worthless, I am unloveable. Allowing God to affirm us as truly loved, truly valuable, truly his children, takes a big leap of faith. 

I used to think God’s love was tolerance. (No problems with self-esteem here, eh?) I thought God tolerated me because he had to, because that was his nature. I know differently now. His love is far deeper than an attitude of simply putting up with us: he accepts us as children, because that is what we really are; not as naughty children, but as treasured, beloved children, wholly welcomed, wholly adored. 

This kind of affirmation goes beyond everyday compliments. It’s more than ‘You did that well’ or ‘You look nice today’. Compliments are cool and all, but imagine being truly seen and known by someone who passionately loves you, the whole of you, not loving some of you in spite of some things, but who loves your whole being. That’s ‘beloved’. And that’s how God loves us—not guardedly or warily, but extravagantly.

That’s how God loves us—not guardedly or warily, but extravagantly.

Even as I write this, I can feel myself squirming. True affirmation is awkward and confronting and scary, especially for those of us unaccustomed to it. But sometimes the most honest affirmation nudges toward vulnerability, challenging someone to open themselves up to God’s bold and unashamed love one baby step at a time. 

The courage to accept God’s bold-faced love manifests itself in other ways. We become more courageous in sharing this love with others. We find it easier, by degrees, to give words of affirmation as God prompts us. We are prepared to take risks with our true selves, putting ourselves and our creations ‘out there’ for the world to see, secure in who God has made us to be. 

It also gives us confidence in saying ‘yes’ to things we really want. In my life, I have often said ‘no’ to things my heart ached to do because I believed that was the humble thing to do. I believed God would be pleased with my selflessness. But in reality, I was burying my one talent in the ground, afraid of failure, afraid of success. What if people see my true self, unmasked, and reject me? It felt easier to fly under the radar. 

Sometimes God wants us to step forward, to say ‘yes’.

The only problem with that is sometimes God wants us to step forward, to say ‘yes’, to try and experiment and fail and try again. This is the kind of courage Berthelsen exhorts us to embrace and embody, not just because it makes us feel good (and it does), but because that is how God made us to be: whole and secure and loved and confident in him. 

I pray you will know God’s boundless affirmation of your whole, true self today. 

What words of affirmation have God and others spoken to you recently? Where might God be prompting you to be courageous and say ‘yes’? How easy is it for you to believe that God affirms every part of your real self? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation. 

To purchase Swansong from Jo-Anne Berthelsen’s website, click here: https://www.jo-anneberthelsen.com

To purchase Swansong from Koorong, click here: https://koorong.com/product/swansong-start-creating-your-legacy-of-life-giving_9781788933391 (on sale till Tues 7th May 2024!) 

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