One of the primary definitions of encouragement is the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope. Based on what I’ve seen over the past few months and years, I’d like to take that definition a little bit further to say encouragement—and what it brings to the recipient—is actually both life-giving and life-saving.
We’re all called to certain recurring tasks. You do them even if you’d rather not… and life goes on, right? And yet, at is in the mundane details of those tasks that we are sometimes left struggling to breathe. I’m not talking about the death-is-impending lack of breath, but rather the knocked-the-wind-out-of-me sort. It’s temporary, and you know it, but that doesn’t make it any less painful or hopeless.
In moments like these, life-giving encouragement is what breathes fresh air into out knocked-out-lungs, and gives us enough strength to not just go on, but to encourage others as well.
You know those days where you feel like you just can’t go on? No really. The days that feel so dark, there doesn’t seem to be much point anymore. You’ve been so beaten down, trampled on, and ignored, that your persistent pain threatens to swallow you whole. [If you can’t imagine this, then maybe you’re one of those people who has never actually experienced so much pain that you (or a loved one) wished to be dead. If that’s true, I challenge you to ask God to show you who among your family or friends has felt this way, because I guarantee you they are there.] Encouragement, in whatever form it presents itself, can be quite literally life-saving in situations like this.
Life-saving encouragement is evident in the student who steps outside of her normal routine to join the “new kid” who has spent the past few weeks eating lunch alone, or in the one who seeks out the bullied, marginalized, or otherwise forgotten to say those simple, yet affirming words: really? me too!
2015 brought about a significant life change for our family. We thought moving abroad was tough… but we’ve now come to realize that moving “back home” is even tougher. These experiences changed us, and we continue to grow through our current circumstances. I remember the pediatrician’s response when I asked about the pains my daughter was experiencing in her legs. “Those are growing pains,” he told us. “When you stop and consider the fact that your daughter will likely triple her birth height over the course of her first dozen or so years… I’d say it’s reasonable to expect some associated pain.”
Growing is hugely beneficial, yet distinctly painful.
You know what really helps with all sorts of growing pains? Encouragement. Both the life-giving and life-changing kind. Over the next few weeks, I hope to tell you about some of the many ways in which we’ve received life-giving and life-saving encouragement recently. To get started, here’s a glimpse at just one way I, personally, benefited from it.
I turned 40 a few weeks after we moved to a brand new state. I had always envisioned a fun turning-40 event with friends and family, but given we didn’t really know anyone in our new town that thought faded pretty quickly. It was a silly thing, I know, given all of the problems in our world. Nevertheless, as my birthday approached I hit a particularly low point in our re-entry transition.
When a new friend invited me to lunch a few days before the big day, I must admit that I didn’t really want to go. Loneliness does that to you; it makes you feel like you are the only one who feels that way, which only further isolates you. To top it off, we had decided the prior evening to pull our daughter from her new school and let her finish out the year at home with me. Even though we all thought it was the best course of action, it added challenges to an already stressful transition.
But I did find my way to the restaurant, 15 minutes late, and was shocked to walk in on my own surprise party. Around the table were half a dozen of the women I had met through the school from which we had just withdrawn (uh… awkward!), all of whom were there to celebrate me. It didn’t matter that my daughter wasn’t attending there anymore. It didn’t matter that we barely knew each other. They all took time out of their busy schedules to be there for me. To say I was humbled and honored is the greatest of understatements.
The new friend who arranged it all had stopped to consider what it might mean to celebrate a milestone birthday so far from good girlfriends, and took it upon herself to change that. Her actions meant that at a time when I needed it most, I was so encouraged.
What I’ve learned these past few months is that we, as humans, aren’t super quick to reach out and encourage one another. Sure, we may be “Facebook friends,” but friendship in real life takes a lot of work! It requires that we put aside our selfish desires and place the other person first. (Go figure.) It means looking beyond our own circumstances to see others’ pain and need. And it often forces us outside of our comfort zone as we seek out those around us. I don’t think it’s ever easy. But when we do it… when we go out of our way to encourage one another… the results are both life-giving and life-saving.