You know how sometimes you run into the same theme everywhere you go for a week?
Dan and I lead a couples small group through church and one of the ways the church supports us in that effort is to arrange for us to meet with pastors who can encourage us in our role. They provide us with resources to help us better lead the people in our group. This month some of the reading materials they gave us was from a book called "Encouragement."
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a bible-study for mom's of middle school girls where we are following along with the book they are studying in their youth group. The current chapter was all about the story of how Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) encouraged Mary (the mother of Jesus) when she first found out she was pregnant. Can you imagine? Picture this - you're about a middle schooler's age, an angel tells you you're pregnant even though you've never been with a man, and that the baby is going to be the savior of the world. Then imagine trying to explain it to your fiance, who remember you have yet to "be" with and who has some serious doubts. So you make your way to visit an older, trusted relative and upon your arrival she totally encourages and affirms you without a shadow of doubt. You can check this remarkable scene out in Luke chapter one.
It was suggested we follow up with our daughters about what it means to encourage - so Caitlin and I looked up the definition in the dictionary and it says "to give courage to; to inspire with courage, spirit or confidence. To stimulate by guidance, approval, etc." Those are great talking points, because typically people define encouragement as helping someone feel better about themself or their situation. But it's a lot more than that - it's giving courage to someone who might not have enough of their own to carry on in a difficult circumstance. It has an element of hope in it - showing someone a promise or reminding them of one they may have forgotten.
Encouragement is considered a spiritual gift by many and can be demonstrated through something as simple as a handwritten note, a phone call, an email, some time together or a simple gesture - like a hug. But most often it includes words.
The reading materials from the Encouragement book stressed how all words that are spoken should be used to edify each other as part of a commitment to being God's instruments in each other's lives. There was a lot of emphasis on the words we used (and didn't use) to encourage others.
I like words. I like positive words in particular. I'm sure if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I often have plenty to say. I'm seldom at a loss for words. Maybe sometimes I should be. All this reading has made me think more about the words I choose. Especially with my husband and kids.
So I was contemplating these thoughts on encouragement (and this is just a sampling of where it popped us this week - there were more in other books I'm reading where it wasn't so obviously presented, and on radio talk shows, etc.) and thinking about how I can be more encouraging to my family, friends and co-workers, when the very next morning I got some upsetting news. My agenda quickly changed from a desire to be an uber-encourager to attempting to produce some actual work without an emotional breakdown.
Guess what happened?
I received two separate emails and one handwritten note from people with deeply encouraging words. Two of them were about the same thing - and expressed such appreciation for something I did (which is actually a routine part of my job) I was overwhelmed by their response. The other - the handwritten note came from a guy whose PDA is like an extension of his hand. I mean I've never seen this guy use a pen and paper - he takes meeting notes on his blackberry. He can text faster than a 16 year old girl. But he took the time to write me a note thanking me for some help with something at work. I don't directly support any of these people and they didn't know anything about my bad news, but on the same day within hours of each other they managed to find the time and inclination to encourage me with words that inspired, stimulated and guided me.
Just another example of God's grace in action. Reminding me I need what I seek to give and making sure I got it. I hope the next time I encourage someone it's as well timed...and maybe even a little unexpected.