The word, encourage, comes from the Old French, encouragier, which means “to make strong” or “to give heart.” We all seem to need and thrive on encouragement. So what makes our hearts faint and in need of strengthening?
The Faint of Heart
A major heart-weakener is fear—the anxiety or anticipation of something we perceive as a threat to our well-being. Not all fear is bad. We should be afraid of things that could cause us serious harm—both physical and spiritual. But as socio-emotional beings, we have other fears that can be irrational and self-defeating, like a fear of failure and a fear of rejection. These steal our strength and keep us from attempting the difficult or taking risks.
Another variety of heart-faintness is a lack of motivation and desire to do what should be done. One word used to describe this state is complacency.
complacency n., a feeling of self-satisfaction, often in the face of a threat.
But here’s the thing. How can you be strengthened to do what’s needed if you don’t know what that is? One of the destructive effects of throwing out the Christian faith is to lose one’s compass and sense of true north.
God made us to share in His divine life. He calls us to seek Him; to know and to love Him with all our strength. But wounded by sin, we are caught up in a pattern of pride, selfishness, and complacency. If we are truly to encourage and be encouraged, we have to address the obstacles that prevent us from engaging in this quest for healthy relationship, wholeness, and holiness.
We commonly think of encouragement in two ways.
The first is to speak to the fear of failure with the message: “You can do it.” This includes helping people get over their self-defeating “stinkin’ thinkin.”
The second is to address our fear of rejection by communicating acceptance and support.
Unfortunately, neither of these tactics may help us overcome the problem of lack of direction and complacency. Even Christians, once having made a decision for Christ, can remain self-satisfied and never allow the Holy Spirit to help them grow further.
The Catholic view of the spiritual life is not only that we come into a relationship with Jesus Christ through faith, but that we also continue to grow in holiness and union with Him through ongoing change and conversion.
Encouragers Are Catalysts
A catalyst is a substance that reduces the energy for a chemical reaction to take place without itself being consumed.
Encouragers can catalyze change and undergo conversion by helping others to overcome the obstacles like sin, natural resistance to change, and socio-cultural factors. They do this through:
- Affirmation. We affirm one’s value. We honor them. We affirm someone’s decisions and actions when they are directed to doing God’s will and becoming like Jesus in holiness.
- Confront and challenge. We also encourage people by challenging them to take a different course when the one they’re on is leading them away from God.
- Equip. At times we’ll recognize something specific our friend needs to move forward. Often, it’s not our place to provide this, but sometimes we can.
- Show the way. How others behave around us has an influence. Set an example that helps your friend move toward godliness.
- Give the gift of presence. We can encourage others by just being present to them. We don’t abandon them when times get tough, or they’re stuck in selfish behaviors. That doesn’t mean we go along with sin. That kind of acceptance is bogus. We can love someone without accepting what they do.
- Inspire. Inspire others to go beyond the boundaries of sin and complacency. Help them to form a vision of a holy life directed toward God. Help them to recognize their gifts and potential. Create a positive emotional and verbal environment through your demeanor.
- Pray. Prayer turns us toward God and away from ourselves. It allows God to work in us and to change our hearts and minds. We should pray for and with those we seek to encourage.
* * *
The last six weeks I’ve been looking at several practices that I’ve called the SINGLE Approach, that can help transform our relationships. I will summarize them here:
Smile Give others a gift-smile.
Important Honor others as someone of importance.
Name Help others to be known and to recognize the divine image.
Genuine interest Show genuine interest, curiosity, and caring toward others.
Listen Listen to others at multiple levels.
Encourage Encourage others toward holiness and union with Christ.