A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a Y volunteer thanking me for the encouragement I was to him when he was going through a very difficult experience. As I reflected on his note, I remembered the verse of Scripture we use in our Christian Principles Training when referring to our Christian principle of respect: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” —1 Thessalonians 5:11.
Here are some ways we can carry out that command:
We can encourage others tangibly by meeting their physical needs. Let’s keep our eyes open to those needs around us and respond as we can.
One of the most valued and yet most lost forms of encouragement is sending cards. Although emails and text messages are good and quick ways of communication, an appropriate written note allows people to soak up the message privately without feeling pressured to respond immediately.
Touch is another way to communicate encouragement. But in this expression use good common sense and discretion so your actions won’t be misinterpreted.
Perhaps the most effective way to encourage someone is to listen actively. Active listening includes inviting body language or thoughtful comments or questions to clarify what was said. This differs from passive listening, which is characterized by poor eye contact, few questions and a quickness to give your thoughts.
We have all experienced sorrow, pain, discouragement or loss. These experiences can become our richest resource for encouraging others who are going through similar difficulties. The apostle Paul reminds us that “God never wastes a hurt”. In his letter of 2 Corinthians he says that God comforts us in our affliction so that we will in turn be able to comfort others.
True encouragers must be willing to be used whenever God places unexpected opportunities in their paths—we may see these as interruptions. I do feel more comfortable when my day can be planned, so these interruptions are a challenge for me. I must remind myself that the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30–37, stopped mid journey and altered his itinerary to assist a stranger. Time can be the most difficult but most uplifting gift we can give. Offering others our undivided attention and physical presence greatly affirms their personal worth.
Encouragement seems like such a little thing but it does cost us—time, physical and emotional energy, money and our own urgent agendas. Yet the cost is worth it. For just as kindness begets kindness, encouragement begets encouragement. The encouragement we pour into the lives of those around us will spill over into the lives of others. A great proverb from the Old Testament says this, “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” —Proverbs 11:25. Be an encourager, it’s worth it!
By Bob Reichen, Vice President of Christian Mission Advancement, and Chaplain