I recently received a very nice and extended thank you for a seminar I had led.  I am not sure it is fair to say I taught it, although I suspect that is what many folks who attended would have said.  I suspect that is what they would say because I am a college professor and when we show up, the assumption is made that we’ll teach something.  I don’t have trouble with that, although I don’t agree with it.  I think it is better to say I helped people learn some things that day.
Too often, the assumption is made that if I teach something, someone has learned it.  Of course, sometimes that is true.  I am sure I have taught many people---students mostly---many things over the decades.  I am also convinced that many times I taught things to people and they did not learn anything.  It was a good thing for me to realize that just because I taught something did not necessarily mean it was learned.  And surely, if grades mean anything, not everybody learns the same thing.  I have had students who sat in class the whole semester while I was teaching and they failed the class!  It would be hard to argue that I taught them anything.
The seminar I recently did was for older adults.  It was not geared for the college crowd, although a few from that age group did show up.  Rather than teach them all sorts of material, basically I created an environment of self-discovery, exploration and some guided learning.  If I taught anything that day, it was how to learn and, hopefully, how to grow from the learning. 
I think this approach made sense because I was convinced what folks probably wanted to learn varied.  Some wanted facts and others wanted nothing to do with facts.  Some wanted to explore a variety of options for thinking about a topic and others did not wonder about anything.  The image I conjured in my mind was a sandbox full of kids playing.  To be sure, they were all playing and playing in the same sandbox.  But they were playing with a myriad of toys, etc.  There was diversity and unity.
The time went well and that is what precipitated the longish thank you message.  I appreciated the words and the sentiments.  I appreciate receiving thanks when I do something.  That does not always happen in our world!  I appreciated the gratitude extended to me.  I figure gratitude is a good deal all the way around.  For someone to be grateful for something is healthy.  And for me to experience someone’s gratitude is also healthy.  Gratitude is a win-win situation.
As I thought about this, I realize there was a deeper dimension that would be easy to miss.  Being thanked and receiving someone’s gratitude is a first-level kind of thing.  If I do something, I expect there will be some kind of response.  That was appropriate and I appreciate it.  Too often, that’s that.  But this time I realized what I might call a second-level dimension.
I felt affirmed.  The affirmation I experienced was different than being thanked.  Being thanked is an event; it happens and then it is over.  You might have a memory of being thanked, but it is history.  The affirmation I felt from a job well done and the thanks that came from that is longer lasting.  The affirmation had two aspects to it.
In the first place I was affirmed for what I had done.  I could say more, but it is clear.  Secondly, I was affirmed for who I am.  This is a little trickier.  It might seem I was affirmed for who I am because someone said I was good---or even great.  No one told me I was great and if they had, I am not even sure what that would mean.  Being affirmed for who I am goes deeper than that.  For me it hooks into the spiritual journey I am traveling.
In brief my spiritual journey consists of being who God wants me to be and doing what I think God wants me to do.  While that is true, it is obviously very general.  It has to become specific and concrete to mean anything.  And that is exactly what the seminar afforded me.  As the leader of the seminar, two things were happening: I was being myself and I was doing my ministry.  This is what any spiritual person on the journey is trying to do. 
The affirmation that came was really an affirmation of who I am and what I am doing.  This is satisfying because it helps me see that I am making headway on my journey.  It was not a direct word from God, but it was the next best thing.  (I tend not to get direct words from God!)
The affirmation is important as a kind of booster shot keeping me active and healthy on my spiritual journey.  Being thanked was nice.  Being affirmed was support to keep sailing, spiritually speaking.

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