The Birthday Game

My mom loves anything you can attach a tradition to.  If there is a way to incorporate a tradition into an event, you better believe she will find a way to make it happen. One of my family’s longstanding traditions is The Birthday Game.  Every time a birthday comes around, after we sing and blow out candles, but before the cake is cut, we play “the game”, which is essentially going around the table and verbally expressing our favorite thing and what we love and appreciate about the birthday guy or gal.  We have done this for as long as I can remember, and I can think back to several birthdays and recall the things people said they loved about me (including the time James got put on the spot to go first and say what he liked most about me in front of all my family and friends after we had been dating 6 weeks, freezing up completely and saying NOTHING AT ALL, wondering what kind of wacko family this girl he was dating came from).

Growing up with The Birthday Game instilled in me the importance of giving verbal affirmation to others.  Sometimes I believe we genuinely think about how much we love and appreciate the people in our lives, but those kind thoughts never get from our heads to our lips because we don’t know how to say it out loud, likely because it can be uncomfortable and awkward.  

Recently, I received my bi-annual performance review at work, and I was nervous at best because performance reviews can always be slightly terrifying, but primarily because I could never gauge how my manager felt about me.  I knew I was doing well in my position, but I had never received positive feedback from her, so I had no idea if I was meeting her expectations.  As she delivered my review to me, I was literally shocked at the things she said. Apparently, she really liked me all this time, saying things like I “boosted the morale of the team”, that she “trusted me completely” and was one of the “best hires she ever made.” I cannot overemphasize the fact I was floored by this.  I was skeptical to the possibility that she might have even liked me, and apparently she thought I was an incredible employee! How did I miss that? Because she never made it a point to tell me.  

We have all seen mean, hurtful words tear people and lives apart, and we have also seen intentionally placed affirmation spring up life and confidence into people.  I really believe that we can the ability to transform and change the course of a life simply with the words we speak.  Sometimes we have to embrace the awkwardness of verbal affirmation and just go for it.  I guarantee you everyone could probably use a healthy dose of encouragement.  We are all secretly hoping for it.  

I think it’s easy and safe to send nice text messages or write sappy social media posts about our friends, but I believe it is much more powerful to look people directly in the eyes, without a glowing screen and fanfare of likes and comments, and tell them what you see in them: their gifts, their talents, their strengths, how you noticed what they did, how you believe in what they can do.  It may be more uncomfortable, but it is definitely more powerful.  Try it.  Instead of thinking about what a great mom/teacher/wife//employee/friend so and so is, actually tell them to their face that they are rocking it.  If someone has made a huge difference or influence in your life, don’t just tell others about how awesome they are, tell them too.  When someone shows kindness to you, lavish them with appreciation.  These are all small things, but the ripple effects have the possibility to be huge.  

I have become like my mother and now use The Birthday Game as a tradition for all of my friend’s birthdays.  I get teased about it, but I insist we play at every birthday party (assuming there’s less than 100 people ;)) because I believe it is important for people to hear why they are loved.  It is a silly game, but I can see the look in people’s eyes as they hear affirmation from their friends, and that makes it worth playing every time.  

Beyond birthdays, I hope to be a person who finds more things to appreciate than critique, who praises more than complains, and who uses words to build up.  

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Until next time,




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