Today I had the opportunity to read (over the shoulder, as it were) two very kind messages. One was an email my sister wrote to my parents to let them know about the passing of a dear family friend they hadn’t seen in many years but still prayed for regularly. The other was a tribute that a friend’s mother wrote to her on Facebook, congratulating her on the achievement of my friend’s younger son graduating from high school this week – and marking the culmination of 25 years of committed and creative homeschooling by my friend.
Something about both of these beautifully written messages lodged in my heart. Both were sincere and heartfelt and wonderfully kind, a quality that makes my heart sing whenever I see it. But the quality that most stood out to me in both was encouragement.
Encouragement is one of those gifts that I think we get a little lazy about in the church (and in the world at large, but I’ve been pondering on this from the perspective of Christian community). We tend to compartmentalize it by saying “well, so and so has the gift of encouragement,” as though that lets the rest of us off the hook when it comes to offering encouraging words. But the Scriptures make it clear this should be a part of our daily, ordinary practice as Christians. We are to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and “encourage each other every day” (Hebrews 3:13).
I’ve been trying to get better about this in my own life, offering kind and affirming words to others when I’m prompted to. It sounds easy, but so often I either fall into critical mode (especially with my daughter or other people close to me) or I choose not to speak because I think I’m not the person that someone needs to hear from, or that they probably don’t need encouragement since they seem to have it all together. But it’s not necessarily my place to judge how much someone needs encouragement. It’s my place, as a follower of Jesus, to just give it, sincerely and from the heart, when he prompts my heart to do so.
Encourage. To give someone courage. To inspire them with hope and confidence. I know how much I need encouragement every day. So I’m finding new ways to try to say what I often think. “You’re really good at that.” “It meant so much to me that you took the time to….” “I hope you realize what a difference it makes when….” “I’ve heard such good things about…” And with my eleven year old, sometimes words like, “I know how hard that is for you, and I wanted you to know I noticed how you kept at it.” Or even just “you’re really growing and learning!”
Sometimes it feels like the world tries to take our courage. Even when we feel thin on courage ourselves, we can still spread seeds of encouragement wherever we go.