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He wore his shame like a weighty overcoat—understandable, given all he’d been through. A “moral failure”—that’s what it’s called in church circles, which essentially means you’ve been unfaithful to your marriage vows, and also to the rules that church staff are supposed to uphold. He’d been let go from his ministry position but still kept coming around, Sunday after Sunday, eager to engage in worship, desperate for the heaviness to lift. His old pastor saw him one weekend and noticed how overtired the wounded man looked—dark circles underneath his eyes, shoulders slumped a little, a distinct lack of spring in his step. As soon as the service ended, the pastor made a beeline for the guy, sticking out his right hand as he approached. “I’m glad to see you,” he said, meaning it. “Listen, it’s tough right now, but it won’t always be this hard. I believe in you. I care about you. You are going to get through this … you will.”

The man met the pastor’s gaze in hopes of responding, but before he could choke out a word, he broke down. In light of the long road toward healing and restoration this man faced, he was probably under the attack of some pretty disparaging self-talk: “Give up. It’s not worth the work you’re going to have to put in. Nobody is going to trust you again, anyway—at least, not your family … and that’s who really counts.”

His tearful display held a question: Should I give up?

The pastor stood there silently for what felt like forever, his hand on the man’s shoulder. He repeated his earlier remark: “It won’t always be this hard.”

What is Encouragement, Anyway?

To “encourage” someone is to momentarily replace thoughts of despair and pain with thoughts of courage and strength. It is to equip them with useful weapons for taking down the fear and frustration that is presently running their mind. It is to remind them that their efforts toward wholeness and holiness are “worth it,” regardless of what has them questioning the effort in the first place. If you were to net out the apostle Paul’s letters—and his contribution represents nearly half of the New Testament—you would find this central theme: Don’t quit! Don’t give up! Keep going. Keep trying. Keep giving the effort. You have everything you need, in order to overcome this difficult thing. In short: encouragement. Paul knew the value of an encouraging word. The question for us is: do we?

To be alive in this day and age is to be keenly aware that things aren’t as they should be. Perhaps our world isn’t in worse shape than it was, say, ten or fifteen years ago, but we sure are more aware of the issues now than we were then, given the explosion of social media. If a political decision is being weighed in Washington, D.C., we know about it. If an Amber Alert has been issued on behalf of an abducted child in Oregon, we know about it. If two Hollywood A-listers file for a divorce, we know about it. If a police officer oversteps his authority in Mississippi, we know about it. If we wish to know it, we can know it these days, and we can know it—snap! Just like that. But if we’re not mindful, all this knowledge will bring us down. We’ll start meditating on discouraging things. We’ll start talking with others about discouraging things. We’ll start focusing only on discouraging things, to the point where we’re cynical about all of life. We’ll grumble, we’ll gripe, we’ll rant, we’ll rave, and at the end, what will we have accomplished, apart from further stirring the pot?

Certainly, it is neither useful to stick our heads in the sand and pretend all is well in the world, nor is it wise to eschew information in favor of believing that ignorance really is bliss. It’s important for us—especially those who follow Christ—to be present with those who are suffering, to include those who are marginalized, to seek understanding where there is division, and to provide resources for those who are in need, and how else will we know of all these travails unless we’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world? No, the idea here is simply to be light among the darkness, to allow a resurgence of encouragement to take place, wherein we choose to use our words to focus on the positive instead of the negative, to accentuate the timeless instead of the fleeting, to build up instead of tear down.

Three Encouraging Things to Say

Three important truths have the power to uplift anyone who is feeling deflated, demoralized, or weak. If you are in need of a little encouragement yourself, latch onto one of these phrases. If those around you are in need of the encouragement, now you can be the one to provide it.

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