During my recent physical recovery I was deeply touched by how many shared words of grace, hope, and comfort with me. I find it a bit intriguing how easy it is at times to have faith for others, but so much harder to have faith for ourselves. I have been assured over and over that this will work out, God is in control, the universe is conspiring to bless us even in the midst of struggle.
I’m good with all that.
Those are generally thoughts I have and share with others in their time of need. In many ways my role this past decade as Chaplain has been that of offering encouragement to others in their hour of need , and of course a great portion of that has been verbal encouragement.
Many years ago when I began seeking about transitioning from full time ministry to full time professional counseling I recalled this verse from the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18- “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” As I mulled that thought over and over, prayerfully considering what that might mean to me, I was amazed at the simplicity.
To en-courage is to put courage in.
The above quote is attributed to several, but no matter where it originated, the sentiment is the same. Those surrounding us each day in our daily lives are often fighting bigger battles that we may ever know. Some are physical, some are relational, some are emotional. Some are work related, hope related, or just the never ending daily struggle of life.
For many years I worked as chronic pain management counselor. I worked with hundreds to thousands who suffered ongoing chronic intractable pain, often related to failed back surgery but also related to crush injuries, amputations, and a variety of other diseases including sacroiliac pain, fibromyalgia and a litany of others. Generally when they were written a prescription to come to the counselors office, they initially protested. They would say, I hurt! How are you going to help me as shrink? Through the course of our treatment time together I would share how my goal was to help them see things differently and hopefully find some tools that might help them better manage their negative emotions( anger, depression, etc) when they were going trough their most painful episodes. Almost to a person over the years they came to enjoy our time together. I was able to validate their struggles but also to offer them some thoughts on both physical and emotional management of their issues. Simply said, we spent time together and in a good number of ways, they were encouraged. They left feeling empowered. They knew they had limitations. They couldn’t exactly CONTROL their pain, but they were armed with a variety of tools that helped them get over those tough days. And that made their life just a bit better. It wasn’t magic. It wasn’t some incantation. It was simply someone coming alongside saying I sincerely care and I will help walk with you through this.
One of the things they all had in common is no one could see their pain. No one knew their back or head or heart was hurting without them sharing that. I believe we may be surrounded by people in pain but we miss their suffering because they conceal their tenderness. Many believe that showing their vulnerabilities is an act of weakness, rather than how I see it as an act of authenticity. When we open ourselves up to others we are revealing our true self. We become more authentic, more real, more relate-able.
Thankfully as we have walked through this last month of bypass recovery we have been extraordinarily blessed with many who have both said and done just that. They have come alongside and walked with us. The truth is of course we aren’t done, our journey isn’t complete. We are experiencing a new normal and in some ways life may be forever different but that’s o.k. Living and breathing and thinking and counting my blessings remind me just how precious and valuable. each day is.
What people say in front of others and behind their backs matters. All of us have the opportunity and privilege of speaking blessing or curses into the lives around us. Proverbs 18 reminds us the power of life and death is in the tongue. James tells us “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. this should’t be.” Most of us remember our mothers admonition, “if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything.” Common sense wisdom about caring for others.
Doing therapy groups over the years I have often quoted the childhood saying ” sticks and bones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Then I’ve asked if this is true and virtually 100% have said of course not! Words do hurt. Unkind words can hurt deeply. Mean words can damage us for life. As you read this many of you are recalling powerfully bad words spoken while you were young. I have one friend who says he grew up believing his name was “dumb-ass” because that’s the only name his father used for him; and yet another close friend who said virtually the same thing- he grew up believing his name was shithead.
I find it amazing that we can imprint such thoughts on others. Rather than using words to discourage, I believe everyone has the ability to encourage. Recently I had someone share that they have a hard time being around a friend of theirs because that friend is so negative. Out of their mouth comes pessimism, the glass is always half empty. Truth is no one wants to be around a negative Nilly.
It’s just bad energy.
You want to be attractive? You want people to like you? Be nice. Say kind words. Encourage others. Look for the good rather than the bad and speak that into being.
Therefore encourage one another with these words.