I almost destroyed my first car. One day, thankfully, I just happened to be giving my dad a ride and he noticed a light on my dashboard flash when we went around a corner. He asked, “Have you seen that light come on before?”

I said, “Yes, I think it flashes like that when we go around a corner.”

He urgently replied, “That light means this car is dangerously low on oil–your engine could seize up any moment and your car would be totaled.” He explained that I was lucky to get some warning out of that light because sometimes it doesn’t come on until it’s too late, hence the nickname “idiot light.”

I didn’t quite understand that oil is different from fuel. You can run the car out of gasoline without destroying the engine. Oil, on the other hand, is lubricating the engine. If you run out, the friction in your engine will lead to heat that will destroy it.

I think affirmation is social lubrication. We can handle a tremendous amount of relational stress if there is enough lubrication in the system. We need to be in the habit of encouraging one another. Of affirming how we see Christ in the other. Of authentically praising work well done. Of communicating positive regard for people’s personhoods–their inherent worth and dignity as image-bearers–often without reference to their work or performance.

And we need to regularly express these affirmations well before things get really hard. Because sometimes the idiot light comes on when it’s too late.