OK, so I’m listening to Dave Ramsey – he is a financial guru, makes lots of sense, and I enjoy listening to his radio show and his common sense approach to getting out of debt. In a break (I listen on-line, so I hear their seminar ads, rather than a radio ad) they had some other person speaking – I was busy, so I didn’t hear who it was. But he said something that really struck me. “There are people out there who have never been given a word of encouragement.” In my own life, I have found that a word of encouragement, properly given, made a world of difference, both in my attitude, and in my ability to get whatever I was working on done. But while I was thinking about this, I found my thoughts running in several different directions.
1. I believe it is true – many people do not have encouragement. They go through life in a morass of self-determination or depression. Either because of who they are, where they are, or the abuse that they have or are suffering, they have no one in their lives who give them encouragement. Sometimes these people put on an incredible job of appearing that nothing is wrong, while inside, they are hardly able to put one foot in front of another. They live in a world of doubt, low self-esteem, depression – and sometimes they block off those feelings from themselves, and present an appearance of cockiness and superiority.
2. Some people are given “encouragements” that really aren’t encouragement at all. Have you ever been given a “compliment” or an “encouragement” that left you feeling worse than if they hadn’t said anything at all? “Oh, you have such a pretty face. Too bad you are so overweight.” “I know you wanted to play the lead in that production. But remember, there are no small parts, just small actors.” “Hey, this room looks great. When is the rest of the house going to match it?” “That’s a lovely dress. It’s a knock-off, isn’t it?”
3. Some people can’t hear the encouragement that others give them, because the person they want most to support them does not. In my own life, I did not remember the fact that my first music teacher offered to train me for free, just to have the joy of working with me. I could not accept all the friends telling me that I had a wonderful voice; that hearing me at church uplifted their spirits. I only heard my ex telling me that I wasn’t good enough and would never make it as a singer, and my kids telling me that they were embarrassed to hear me sing out.
4. Some people are encouraged by the ones that they need to hear it from – but the way they are encouraged is not in the words or the methods that they understand. There is a book called “The 5 Love Languages”, by Gary Chapman. In it, the author talks about the different ways that people feel love. The five love languages, according to Chapman, are gifts, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and physical touch. And the way that people feel love is often the way the show love. So…in the process of falling in love, the rush of emotion sorta supersedes the love languages. Then they get married. And all of a sudden, the person who shows love by acts of service – working hard, taking care of the car, the odd jobs around the house, the yard, etc., doesn’t feel loved, because their spouse is always giving him these silly little presents that don’t mean anything to him – but to her, they are how she shows her love. And she doesn’t feel loved because her husband stopped giving her the little presents that he had given her when they were courting…I believe encouragement is like that, too. We try to encourage others in the same way that we feel encouraged – not realizing that it might not mean the same to the person we are talking to.
So, how can we encourage others? First of all, we have to be willing to make the attempt. If we aren’t willing to make the attempt, then we will never encourage someone else.
Second, Smile – sometimes a simple smile can go a long way. Smile at strangers. A stranger changed my life once. He sat on his front step and waved at people driving by. Everyday that I saw him, I smiled, and my day was better.
Some simple words can help. “I believe in you.” “I know it is hard right now, but I know that you can and will make it.” “What can I do to help?”
Sometimes just listening – really listening – can make a world of difference. There is an old story about Indians having a pow wow – I don’t know if it is true or not, but I have heard it from different sources. Supposedly, they had what was called a “talking feather.” This feather would be passed around, and whoever had it was the person who was allowed to talk, and everyone else had to listen and not say anything. But whoever got the feather – before he could speak, he had to state what the previous person had said. This was to be sure that everyone was truly listening, not just thinking about what they wanted to say. Too often, we don’t really listen to someone. We are thinking of what we are going to say next. Truly listening can be a major encouragement to someone.
There are a lot of ways we can encourage someone. Each of us have our own unique methods. Sometimes it is as quick as a smile. Sometimes it is as long as a spa day or weekend. Sometimes we need to take the time to find out what encourages our friend. The most important thing, I think, is that we make the decision to be a person who encourages and builds up.