I’ve been thinking a lot about encouragement lately.
I guess it’s because I’ve really needed it. Between grieving over Mom’s death and thinking (and praying) constantly for Lars in Iraq, I’ve needed it.
And I have been the receiver of so much encouragement. Which is why I’m writing about it today. I am amazed at all the ways people have found to encourage me and Woody during these difficult days. Cards. Calls. Emails. Blog comments. Impromptu visits and invitations to lunch or coffee. One couple even called and “invited themselves over” to watch the Superbowl with us, thinking we might be the only four Patriots fans in Milwaukee. Little did we know how much encouragement we’d need that night (a sad night for our team) . . . But the real deal was that their loving interest in a few things which had just arrived from Mom’s home and their assurance of their prayers for Lars (we got the text that he was “safely in Iraq” during the game) were just what we needed that night.
Encouragement can be a very spiritual thing. Woody is amazed almost daily at the assurance he gets from many of his patients—his cancer patients!—that they are praying for Lars. In fact, that’s the deepest encouragement of all—when folks come alongside and let you know they are praying for you.
It’s actually a very Biblical thing—encouragement. In the early church, it seems Christians were encouraging each other all over the place. In the book of Acts, encouragement (or its derivatives) is mentioned at least a dozen times. Indeed, a man named Joseph was even renamed Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” (Acts 4:36). It is, in fact, a command—that we encourage one another. Our Interim Pastor is currently preaching through I Thessalonians, and we are coming across the word “encourage” all the time (I Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 are two great examples).
My favorite Biblical example is from the Old Testament, from one little verse tucked away in I Samuel. When David is at a real low, on the run out in the wilderness trying to escape the murderous King Saul, Saul’s son Jonathan—ironically, David’s best friend—finds a way to encourage David. In I Samuel 23:16 we read: “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” Amazing. Way before the days of cell phones, email, and text messages, Jonathan finds a way to get to David. And what does he do to encourage him? “Helps him find strength in God.”
I’ve thought a lot about Jonathan lately. Years ago my husband Woody preached (yes, he’s an oncologist; but he is also occasionally asked to preach) an entire sermon on this verse. And it’s come back to me full-force in the past week or so. What Jonathan did provides a model of sorts for us, a model I’ve seen fleshed out in my own life from numerous friends. What did he do? Three things:
He found out where David was. (Jonathan had to do this physically, geographically. We may need to do it relationally—find out how our friend is feeling, what she’s struggling with.)
He went to him. (Notice he didn’t wait for David to come to him or ask for help. People who most need encouragement often don’t—or can’t—ask for it.)
And he helped him find strength in God. That’s the best kind of encouragement: helping each other find strength in God. So many have done that in my life by just sharing a verse they have clung to in some hard times. The most recent example for me came in an email a long-time friend of mine wrote to Lars (and Lars forwarded to me) simply letting him know she’s praying for him and sharing a verse of Scripture with which she had encouraged me in the past. What could be more encouraging than someone who’s praying for your child—and lets him know it?! And uses Scripture to do it!
So of course you know the question I’m leading up to. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself: Who am I encouraging? For whom am I a Barnabas (let’s call it “daughter of encouragement”) or a Jonathan?
Because you see, in the midst of my needing encouragement myself, I’ve discovered something. It’s not actually a discovery. I’ve always known it. But I’ve been reminded: Lots of people need encouragement. In fact, maybe everyone you meet needs encouragement. Especially in January and February. Who was it who said “Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load”? In fact, most often there are many folks around you carrying a heavier load than yours. Particularly if they’re moms!
So, as I thank God continually for the many people who pour encouragement into my life—and the creative ways they find to do it—I’m also asking Him to show me the people in my life who need encouragement. And to help me find ways to do for them what others have done for me. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)
And may I encourage you to do that? It might be your best friend—or your next-door neighbor. Your husband and children. Or the girl with the locker next to yours in the gym where you work out. (Quick example: Recently when I ran into a local Mom To Mom Leader at my gym and I shared about Lars, I found out her husband was facing a big scary surgery in a few days—and I’ve found myself praying quite a bit recently for her husband, a man I’ve never met.)
Just be on the look-out for people you can encourage. Who knows? You may just find yourself encouraged in the process—yes, even in February.