Sometime in my twenties, I started thinking about encouragement. My guess is that it was the result of a bible study I was part of. Regardless, I remember a time when I did not think about encouragement and a time when I began to. I think the question that started it all was something like this, “who encourages you?” or maybe, “where do you find encouragement?” or even, “how do you encourage others?”
The question has remained with me for the last 20 years. #cough #iliketothinkilookyounger As a result of my pondering, I came to the realization that 1. I am not a particularly encouraging person and 2. I have friends who are natural born encouragers. Discovering that about myself and recognizing the characteristic in others was a pivotal moment in my life. I recognized just how meaningful this gift was when I was the recipient and determined that I could learn how to do it better.
As a school counselor, I would teach my students about the importance of encouragement. I would say, “to encourage others means to fill them with courage, so that they can do what it is they might fear.” This resonates with children. They want to love each other and they certainly understand fear. And for me. To just say those words creates an energy in me that is in itself uplifting. Because things scare me. And I need help to be brave.To encourage others means to fill them with courage, so that they can do what it is they fear. Click To Tweet
In writing this post, I decided to see what the dictionary has to say about encouragement. Here are some of the synonyms I found: hearten, cheer, buoy up, uplift, inspire, motivate, spur on, fire up, stimulate, invigorate, vitalize, embolden, fortify, rally, support, help, champion, promote, further, foster, nurture, cultivate, strengthen, boost, fuel, persuade, coax, urge, influence. Don’t you just love those words!?! Do they fire you up like they do me?
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11
I don’t think one person would disagree that to encourage others is a necessary and good thing. So, if you are like me, and you have to learn how to do this better, where do you start?
It seems as if encouragement often shows up as the friend who knows you are going through a hard time and calls to check on you, the sibling who answers your midnight phone call and talks you down off the proverbial ledge, the colleague who notices the effort that went into your presentation and commends you for it, the parent who recognizes how much you improved even if you didn’t win, or maybe the sweetheart who reminds you of why they chose you when rejection looms. Do any of these sound familiar? Are you thinking of a thousand more examples?
Although I can and do do these kinds of things for others, I realized that a true encourager does them without effort. There is a giving of their heart that seems to focus only on the pain you are suffering or joy you feel and not their own agenda. The hurdle I strive to overcome is that of realist, or fixer. I find that I get distracted by looking forward instead of staying in the present. In counseling or parenting or relationship building we call that attunement. To be attuned to the feelings and affect of others gives us opportunity to connect on a deep level, to offer comfort, to love well.
Think for a minute about the people in your life. Who do you turn to when the world goes topsy-turvy? Who would you ask to be with you in a crisis? What is it about them that is so comforting? Are they an encourager? What qualities do they have that we can practice?
Here are five things my own encourager role models do that we can all learn.
1. Listen well. Encouragers listen to discover what it is their friend is experiencing. Then they speak to that feeling or experience, hurt or need.
2. Focus on your friend. People who are encouraging have learned how to set aside their own agenda. They stay in the moment, attuning to the person with whom they want to connect and hearten. #lovethatword
3. Notice people. Encouragers have a special knack for noticing people. But this is something we can all learn. It is about paying attention and making a point to remember things about others so that we can speak to who they are. Encouragers have a way of saying “I see you!” This is powerful!! Here are a few more ideas on noticing.
4. Be intentional. Making a decision to communicate hope and courage to others is a wonderful first step in encouraging. Commit to find one person every day who can be encouraged by your words and attention to them.
5. Don’t discriminate. Encouragement isn’t just for people who are struggling. Remember to offer words and gestures that inspire, spur on, embolden, fortify, champion and nurture people when they are up, down or somewhere in the middle. Fill them with the courage they need to continue down the path.
If you have been blessed by encouraging friends and family, or maybe you have experienced a lack of encouragement in hard times, how has that impacted you? What have you been told was an encouragement to someone else? What is one example of how you have been encouraged by another? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this plays out in your own life.