“There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there.” Paulo Coelho
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“How would your life be different if…You walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day…You speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.” Steve Maraboli
“Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts…” Robert Fulghum
“I am aware that I am less than some people prefer me to be, but most people are unaware that I am so much more than what they see.” Douglas Pagels
“Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” Stephen R. Covey
“Good works is giving to the poor and the helpless, but divine works is showing them their worth to the One who matters.” Criss Jami
“Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Chapter 8…Encourage…”The word encouragement speaks of coming alongside others and giving them courage. Life can be a fearful thing. Everyone needs someone drawing alongside, saying ‘You can do it. Don’t quit.’ Everyone needs someone who believes in them. Everyone needs encouragement.”
This might be the single most TANGIBLE important lesson of this book…14 Secrets to Better Relationships. So far I have spoken on the importance of Acceptance, Love, Honor, Serving, Forgiving, and Honesty as it applies to our relationships with God and with others. But what good are any of those things if we fail to express our acceptance, love, honor etc. in ways that are understood? All of the “good feelings” sent someone else’s way are not going to have the result that we hope unless we show others how we feel by telling them! Are we really accepting someone else by not saying a word of welcome. I have a picture in my mind of a 13-year-old walking into a new school or a new church filled with unknown people. The other children may not openly reject the new child…but by not making the effort to say hello, introduce themselves, begin a conversation, offer their services, introduce them around…etc. …what is the difference? It is not enough to not reject. To truly accept in a tangible way that the other person understands and feels and knows is sincere we must go one step beyond neutral. We must be an encourager. We MUST draw alongside.
Same thing for love. How in the WORLD is someone supposed to understand our love for them if it is never expressed? Kind actions, while incredibly important and edifying, can easily be explained away. The recipient can easily tell themselves that thoughtfulness is more a product of who you are than who they are to you… “That was soooo sweet, but I am sure that they would have done that for any body.” (In other words, I am not special…there is nothing about me that deserved that…they are special…I was lucky…). Showing love through our thoughtful actions is absolutely meaningful, but how much more powerful would the action be if it was accompanied by sincere, heart-felt, personal words? All of the sudden, there is no doubt. The recipient KNOWS that the kindness was specifically for them because they are special. All of the sudden, with very little extra effort…except true words…a person is ENCOURAGED!
As Dave Early explains it, “For the Greeks, the heart was the center of a person’s inner life, the source of all forces and functions of the inner being. To be discouraged was to ‘lose heart; to have the very core of your being cut out’. Encouragement, therefore, means to ‘put the heart back’ or ‘put the courage back’ into someone…Encouragement is not something that we can offer others from a safe distance….The word encourage is used 109 times in the Bible and has various shades of meaning. A full-blown definition of the biblical notion of encouragement would go something like this: Encouragement: to come alongside someone in order to comfort, console, cheer up, cheer on, counsel, call out, challenge, exhort, entreat, strengthen, teach, instruct, admonish, warn, urge, appeal, beg, or beseech. Encouraging others is a command to be obeyed, a ministry to be practiced, and a lifestyle to be lived. It is essential for building relationships.”
What does that look like in practice? I can tell you how it feels to be the recipient of encouragement…hopefully you know this first hand too. I am in a new church. I know no one there…but after the service I am surrounded by members welcoming me…telling me how happy they are that I am there…sincerely hoping that I will return again. Asking about me. Am I likely to leave such a place with regrets that I had spent time there…or am I going to leave feeling loved and important and accepted and wanted. We have all been to places, even churches, where no one speaks to us…no one puts out a hand in welcome except during the required mid-service mandatory handshake and hello. Sadly, we often walk away from places where we have gone to be “recharged” and “fed” and to feel a connection, more drained and hungry and isolated than before.
We are not being encouraged…but that also means that we are not being good encouragers!
Paul was beaten, imprisoned, whipped almost to death, stoned…etc. etc. etc. but even that did not discourage him from his job as encourager! In 2 Corinthians 13:11″Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
And in 1 Thessalonians 5:11-18 “ Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
This admonition seems VERY active! And interpersonal. And not keeping ourselves to ourselves. Why would we wait for someone else tell the soloist that they have a beautiful gift and thank them for sharing it with us all…if we can tell them. Would it be terrible if everyone who thought that the soloist did a lovely job failed to seek the singer out and tell him? What if no one told him? What if he quit singing in front of others because no one acknowledged his gift and encouraged him and he mistook that lack of encouragement…and thought that everyone disliked his music…when nothing could be farther from the truth! But how could he know? We are called to encourage. We are called to lift up…not with false praise and flattery for our own gain, but with truth that speaks to another person’s heart and gives them courage to keep on.
We all have had times when we are so far down in the dumps that we don’t know when or how we will ever get out. It seems like no one is there to lend a hand…and we are not in a place to believe that God cares. Dave Early says this, “God may have allowed you to experience some dark days and tough times. How might you use what you have experienced to challenge others to greater faith, higher hope, and deeper love?”
I was having a conversation the other day with one of my best friends about a problem I have. I don’t think it is uncommon. If we stop to think about it, I would say that to some extent we all feel this way. I will digress for a moment and say that I remember being a kid and hearing other kids share their “testimonies” in different church or religious settings. Some kids would share about their use of alcohol or drugs…or about their promiscuity…I couldn’t really relate, but I HEARD them and I LEARNED from them and I FELT for them and I was GRATEFUL that they had come to see how self-destructive their behavior was. But you know what is crazy? The “testimonies” and “sermons” and “lessons” that I tuned out and the ones that I STILL to this day tend to tune out are the ones by people who seem to have had perfect lives. I am sincerely happy for them. I mean it with all of my heart that I am glad that they have had such “smooth sailing”. But they don’t speak to me. They know nothing of my life. They can tell me what they have done and therefore what I should do too…but it doesn’t ring true. How can a preacher that has ALWAYS been with their wife since they were kids…never dated anyone else, kissed anyone else…been with anyone else in any way shape or form…has been content and felt loved and had an agreeable partner know anything about divorce? Do I “agree” with divorce? Abosultely NOT! Do I promote marriages failing and all of the trouble and trauma that goes along with that? No way! But it happens…to good people who never wanted it to happen…it does.
So if I were an addict, who would I be more likely to listen to? Someone who has never “inhaled” / who is a tee-totaler…or someone who knows everything that I have done/felt/ and came out the other side strong and whole and healed? If I had anything happen to me that caused fear or pain or uncertainty WHO am I more likely to want to talk to me…the person who says, “it’s fine. It will be ok. It has always been ok for me… so I know you will be ok too!” Or the person who says, “It’s NOT ok. You are going through something really difficult right now and I totally feel your pain. I know what you are saying. I understand. I’ve been there too. I want to help any way that I can…”
How many of us are told from the time we are babies, “Stop! Don’t! You CAN’T do that?” Or even worse…”That is too difficult for you, try something easier.” “You don’t really want to go out for a sport do you? You’re just really not that athletic.” “You might want to stick to something other than music…” Or “You are so stupid!” “You can’t do anything right!” “You are a jerk, an idiot, annoying, a pain…get away from me…get out of my sight…you are worthless!”
Can you IMAGINE???? Have you ever heard words like that? Directed at you? Directed at someone you know/love? Coming out of your mouth? And if those weren’t the exact words, were they ever similar…did they cause the same feelings…”I’m no good. I’m not smart. I’m not talented. I’m annoying. I’m worthless. I’m unlovable. I’m not good at or for anything. I’m unwanted.”
What a difference in the life of another we could make if we spoke up to let people know the good that we see…the strengths that we see…that we SEE. We simply cannot afford to stay quiet. We cannot shirk our responsibility to not only believe in other people, look for the good in other people, but acknowledge TO the person that they are doing a good job…that they are right…that you want them to keep up the great work that they have begun. Better yet, praise them in the presence of others.
We have a choice…be negative, be neutral or nurture the tiny seed that every single person has in them. If we look at every person we encounter as a unique creation, with great potential, that God has put in our life…what do we do with it? Ignore it? Notice it but wait for or expect somebody else to do something with it? Jab it, stab it, destroy it? Or do we take care of it the best that we can? Do we talk to it, smile down on it with light and love, feed it nourishment? At the end of our life will we have a barren landscape to show for what we have done, or a lush garden? I want a garden…colorful, beautiful, diverse, full of sounds and smells and life. Help me God to notice opportunities to speak words of life. Help me to be present…and not stand back in the comfort and safety of my anonymity…but to come along beside. And through Your wisdom give that person whatever type of encouragement they may need to keep going and growing.
In the Talmud (the encyclopedic compilation of Jewish moral and ethical debate) there is a beautiful sentence: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'”
Lord, help me be that. Give me the courage and wisdom to speak YOUR words of life. Thank you for relationships. Help me take care of the seeds that are entrusted to me. Help me tend YOUR garden.