Words are meaningful. Day after day I sit with people and there are words shared. Words of grief, of joy, of hope, of resignation. In return I offer words that reflect back, words that acknowledge, and at times, words that affirm.
The words of affirmation seem to be the hardest for people to accept.
There are mixed views on how much we should affirm and encourage each other. In situations where people are facing diagnosis, tragedy, change of life, all of these circumstances that require processing and pondering, there is a fine line around affirming words.
Some of the hardest feedback I’ve ever received is being told that I offered someone words that were nothing more than ‘cheap grace’.
Those words hurt.
As a person for whom words matter and a person who is by nature positive, one of the gifts I hope to offer people in my life and ministry are words that build up rather than tear down. Being told a gift I have to offer can represent a cheapening of grace was painful.
My introverted self went and brooded and thought and prayed and consulted my wise husband who told me ‘take what God wants you to have and leave the rest’. I came to a place where I was comfortable with the fact that who I am always seeks hope. What I had to offer was not cheap grace but the desire of my heart to encourage another.
In the true nature of ‘if it’s not me, it must be them’, I started to look at the idea of encouragement and how it is offered and received. There are times and places where encouragement can dissolve into platitudes and make the receiver long for someone who will sit quietly with them in their pain and sorrow.
This kind of encouragement echoes Job’s friends who thought that encouragement was avoidance or blame, that teaching someone to see they just needed to muscle through their situation was the highest form of help.
For people who have experienced this kind of ‘encouragement’ I can see how their gut reaction to affirmation would be ‘just don’t’.
But there is another side to the coin. If we as Christians are called to encourage others as a way of showing love, then how can we give and receive encouragement in a way that does what God intended it to do?
So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.
So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside ‘and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25 (MSG)
Encouraging each other is a gift and a privilege. To be able to walk alongside each other, to share each other’s burdens, is a way God has given us to draw closer together.
But the rhythm of giving and receiving encouragement has been tainted. By Job’s friends-like encouragers who seem to do more damage than good. By people who want the painful stories and situations spoken by another person to stop so they throw wet sand encouragement over the flames of pain.
Encouragement has been tainted by people who have not put the other first in speaking their words.
Encouragement has been tainted when people have chosen not to accept the loving and genuine encouragement of others.
Sometimes we approach encouragement with suspicion. We believe the person’s motives are clouded, that they don’t really understand what we’re going through, that they’re encouraging us for some mysterious reason of their own.
We have begun to devalue other people’s words of encouragement to us.
How many times have we yearned for connection with other people but have written off their positive affirmations of us? Where we listen to people and either tell them that the loving and lovely way they see us is not true, or we listen silently with false smiles and think ‘if you only knew or had a clue, you wouldn’t say that about me’.
But we are desperate for connection. We are desperate for people to see and know the goodness of our hearts and how hard we try to live this God-loving life that we’ve been given?
But we believe the lies.
The lie that words spoken in love cannot be true. That the truly encouraging person is either naive or only sees the surface of things.
And the depth of our hurt and disconnection continues to grow.
Our culture is one where we continually seek affirmation but don’t know how to receive encouragement. (tweet)
Culture tells us that we know our own selves best. That truth comes from within us. That we are in charge of our own happiness and that true healing only comes in a vacuum.
Everyday I see the lies that the enemy plants in my head about my own worth, my value, my skills. And I battle against those lies. I pray and talk to God and ask him to show me what he thinks of me.
And I listen desperately for the wisdom of God to speak truth into me.
He does speak. He speaks in the still small voice that only I can hear in the quiet.
But he also speaks through the words of others who see me through his eyes and love me.
God speaks words of love and truth through other people. Through the God-led encouraging words of other, God builds into us his truth and gives us the gift of people who see us.
People who see our faults but still see our value.
People who affirm our giftedness even when we are thinking ‘but I’m not as good as you think I am’.
People who hug us when we feel unhuggable.
People who seem to be gifted to say the right thing when we didn’t know we wanted anything but silence and to be left alone.
We need to let other people speak blessed words over us. Apart from humility and humiliation, apart from our culture saying that we can heal ourselves with a little help from God.
It’s not cheap grace when it’s given with love and care. It’s God’s grace when someone approaches us and re-introduces us to the people God has made us to be.
God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it. 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (MSG)