Encouragement

When I think of people that I admire and those whose company gives me much joy, those people, I notice, have one certain character trait in common – they are encouragers!

This week I was at a thanksgiving service for a dear soul who was a great encourager. Whoever met him would leave his presence with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.

I want to be like that. I want to lift others; come alongside others; speak joy and hope to others.

A person who encourages is one with whom one feels one’s own spirit lifted. They do not use flattery or shallow, people-pleasing rhetoric, but they see what is good, what is true, what is possible, what is excellent and they focus on those things.

I have often said of myself that I am very easily encouraged and equally too easily discouraged. I am not proud of this. I wrote a poem some years ago, called ‘Emotional Rollercoaster’ because of this unpredictable powerlessness I had over my emotional state!

And it is still true of me. My emotional response to circumstances can fluctuate so rapidly, with the next change of the winds of fortune and opinion! It is not a healthy way to be and it is something that my growth journey of the last seven years has had me constantly aware of and working on.

It is a battlefield in the mind, as Joyce Meyer expounds in her excellent book with that title.

We are called to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds. Thankfully my mind is changing and being renewed slowly.

The key is in the word, courage.

When I am discouraged, I lose courage and become fearful. Such fears are rooted in rejection, punishment and limiting beliefs about myself, lies that say I deserve nothing, that I am stupid and that I am worthless.

When a circumstance changes and an obstacle arises, or a person shows hostility or opposition to something I hold dear, then the negative thoughts in my mind can trigger the fears and leave me feeling powerless and without courage or hope. I sink rapidly into a pit.

When I am encouraged, it feels like the world smiles on me; I feel accepted; I feel okay and I have the courage to believe that I can do something worthwhile. Encouraged, the sun shines and I can look for solutions to obstacles and I have courage to believe the truth and to stand against opposition with truth and resilience.

The trouble is that I still rely too heavily on such encouragement from other people.

Though I am working on ‘re-framing’ those internal scripts, that say I am rubbish, and contradicting them with true facts about who I really am and the truth of who God says I am, still I am too easily swayed by the opinions of others and the obstacles that appear in my circumstances.

Likewise I can choose to focus on the speck in the eye of another and the plank in my own eye, or I can be grateful for the goodness in that person’s heart and in the growth in my own life.

I am a work in progress. I have to constantly contradict the lies from my internal critic; have to constantly be mindful of the truth about the present reality; have to remind myself of what God says about me in His word; have to build myself up in faith and stand with courage on the faithful promises of God.

I need to build my house upon the Rock, not upon sand.

And I need to do this for myself and not rely on the opinions and acceptance of others. For transformation, I have to remain alert and keep up the housekeeping in myself. It is a daily practice of hope, as essential as sleep, food and water.

However, it is also my mission to my brothers and sisters.

I remind myself that today I will only say and do that which build another person up, in the truth.

I will not criticise, gossip or speak doom and gloom.

I will see all that is lovely, all that is good and true and excellent.

I will focus on those things and I will point them out to myself and to my fellow warriors who battle with their own minds.

I will be an encourager, a light and a smile to others, wherever I find myself.

Will you encourage and give hope to somebody today?

It was in the plan!

Last week, while scribbling out my pen and paper rant on freedom, I also had a go at God, (which I chose to omit from the blog) for giving us this so-called ‘free-will’, but knowing the mess and suffering it would cause. I felt, as I considered the ‘options’, that ‘free-will’ had been a mistake, and not real freedom, as it felt like another, “Do it my way or die!”

I didn’t publish that thought, or a few others, as it was already becoming too complex for my little brain to hold together in one post, but I had asked God the question and a couple of days later, a clarity and peace infused my fragile doubts with a sweet smile. I will share those thoughts that were given to me:

The answer I heard, soothing my itching distractions, was that God knew! He knew we would make mistakes all the time. He knew it would take us lifetimes to learn. He knew we’d never get everything perfect, BUT He cherishes our freedom, He cherishes our feeble attempts, He cherishes our creative, eruptions of joy and kindness and love, because they are real expressions of a love response. We are made in the image of Creator God who is love. Just like we love to receive and treasure those cards and offerings lovingly made by our adoring children, so does father God enjoy our love offerings.

AND He KNEW we would need direction and teaching and He PROVIDED it. He knew we would need a role model, constant support and encouragement and He provided it. He knew we would need forgiveness over and over again AND an ‘out of jail free’ pass. He knew and He planned and provided for it all, before He even created us. At human creation, in God’s own image, the redemption plan was already in place, even then. God knew that He would love us to death, that He would become one like us, and with us, and have to sacrifice His life, so that we can be free of death, to be one with Him in His Kingdom and glorious delight. But He knew. It was not a mistake or a trick or an illusion. (Now as I read this back, I’m reminded of Max Lucado’s excellent story, ‘Because I love you” – He made the wall, with a hole in, and a staff to come find us when we climb through the hole!)

God provided for us a Perfect Role-model, directions, a conscience, support, encouragement, love, mercy, forgiveness, healing, restoration, the Holy Spirit to remind us of what is good – He gave Himself as our deliverer and Redeemer. So what do we need to do? We need to listen to the guidance He gives and to know that every time we slip or tumble, we can admit it, repent and get back up for another go. Persevere in doing good. Always get back up.

That love is an example for how we are to live, for our children and for one another. Not just forgiving ‘my brother’ when he says sorry, but a constant holding lightly of our strict expectations of perfection. Forgive as He has forgiven me. Let me give you room to practice using your own feet and discover your own wings, not shackle you to the confines of my own limitation. Let me be expansive with my children and myself and to remove the concept of ‘failure’ as that ugly, smelly, untouchable thing to be feared, but to look at it as an opportunity to learn, to be humble, to grow and stretch out my wings…

Lord, if you give someone freedom, you give them freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong – let me give others freedom to make mistakes and get it wrong too and allow for that in how I live – to encourage, support, tolerate, love – as others also make mistakes… just like young infants learning to walk or talk, we don’t punish them for not speaking a clear sentence, we coo and clap and encourage each sound and attempt and we cherish it.

The stress and devastation of perceived personal failure can leave people in utter despair. The stress of expectation for achievement and acquisition in our world and communities can seem unbearable.

Let us offer an antidote to these cruel pressures and offer encouragement and support to choose life-affirming things, remembering that we need role-models to show us healthy, excellent ways to live, we need unconditional love, ready forgiveness and grace to support and restore the falling and fallen… we need this in our homes, relationships, schools, churches and communities.

We need to encourage one another to ‘have a go’, to ‘follow our dream’, to ‘step out of our comfort-zone’, to try something different, to create something new – to re-create a culture of exploration and creativity, but before we do this, we need to acknowledge, that like the baby learning to walk, that our new venture and our daring to change may land us on our bottom or nose, time after time, it may hurt and seem hopeless, but with practice and perseverance and baby-steps… one step at a time, one day at a time, one smile at a time, one more encouraging word… How many times? “Seventy times seven” – every time!

imperfectly full of treasured love.