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An Invitation to Encourage Others

Note from Tim: is now in its second year of providing encouragement to those on the spiritual journey. This reflection invites you to commit to joining me in encouraging others.

Nancy bubbled over with enthusiasm as she explained seeing the sacred in each experience of her day. “My alarm clock is a call to worship” is the way she began. She went on to describe how her awareness of God’s presence changed the way she engaged with life and transformed her encounters with others.

Nancy’s enthusiasm demonstrated that each of us is a force field of energy. In every moment and every encounter, we have a choice about how to use our energy. We can choose to transmit positive energy that encourages others and empowers them. Or we can give off negative energy that weighs us down and drags others down with us.

Energy is a spiritual force. Passion and commitment unleash something powerful – something spiritual – within us. That force fuels our motivation, inspires us to live with purpose, and gives us the staying power to cope with challenges. We know when our energy is alive and vital, and we’re aware when it is flagging. We can sense the presence of that spiritual force in others, and we know when it is lacking.

Every day presents us opportunities to use our energy – the spiritual force within us – to provide spiritual encouragement to others.

Sometimes providing spiritual encouragement involves small things. Mother Theresa of Calcutta provides a mantra for this: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” The small things of spiritual encouragement are as simple as greeting others with a friendly look, a warm smile, or a kind word. Doing even small things with great love requires leaving behind our self-centered agendas and the preoccupations that cause us to look past others without really seeing them. Spiritual encouragement takes the willingness to risk meeting someone’s eyes, being sincere in saying “thank you,” and connecting with others in a personal way.

Other times, providing spiritual encouragement requires greater effort and greater love. The positive encounters and the highs of life are wonderful, but they are not the whole picture. Life isn’t a perpetual smile button. It includes difficult challenges, harsh realities, and unexpected suffering. There are times when spiritual encouragement urges us deeper than the simple encounters of everyday life.

I remember sitting with a friend struggling through a difficult time. His experience was so raw he had no words to describe it. In the middle of our conversation, he paused and teared up. He struggled to hold back his tears, and no words came. Slowly, he managed to utter a single vulnerable sentence that was almost too painful to put into words.

In such profound encounters, spiritual encouragement isn’t about finding the right words or giving advice. No words are adequate; and no advice will help. In such moments, the great love of spiritual encouragement calls us to offer the only thing we have: our compassionate presence. That presence requires staying in the moment, refusing to turn away from the pain, and accepting the vulnerability of not knowing. Compassionate presence calls us to open ourselves to the needs of the other no matter what the situation asks.

Providing others with spiritual encouragement requires commitment – including the willingness to extend ourselves on their behalf. Living out that commitment invites us to embrace three dynamics at the heart of our own spiritual journey.

The first dynamic is joining Nancy in awakening to the sacred. Awakening urges us beyond our tendency to live in narrow and fearful ways, and it opens us to wonder and awe. Cultivating eyes and ears open to discovering God’s presence requires daily practices – from quiet reflection to spontaneous acts of praise and thanks. Awakening to the sacred pulls us out of our self-focused preoccupations and opens us to the beauty of creation. It calls us to abandon the attachments that hold us back so that we are free to develop deep connections with others and intimate friendships. Awakening to the sacred opens us to the surprising ways God’s presence invades our lives without warning every day.

The second dynamic is embracing Mother Theresa’s mantra to do small things with great love. Committing to spiritual encouragement calls us to engage in daily practices to encourage, support, and empower others. Those daily practices translate our intent into consistent behavior. They help us get through our awkward first attempts and gradually convert them into habits and routines. Trying anything new begins with fits and starts. At first, it’s a mix of small accomplishments, painful mistakes, and the ability to learn from both. Engaging in daily practices of spiritual encouragement slowly changes our instinctive response and builds the encouragement skills we need to live out our commitment.

The third dynamic in carrying out spiritual encouragement is counterintuitive: being willing to accept the encouragement of others. Giving encouragement tends to come from a position of strength. Being willing to accept encouragement requires acknowledging our need. When we have the humility to admit our vulnerability, it connects us with others in a profound way – giving them the opportunity to encourage us. Admitting our weakness forces us to climb down from our soap box, leave our biases behind, and let go of the notion that we know what’s best. When we are able to open ourselves to others in that way, our relationships become mutual. It frees us to celebrate the firm conviction that each of us has something to give as well as something to receive. In that mutuality, strength and weakness come together in an intimacy that builds community and embraces human solidarity.

As you consider this invitation to encourage others on the spiritual journey, I hope you will consider: 

Joining Nancy in seeing your alarm clock as a call to worship – opening yourself to discover God’s presence in every experience and encounter.

Embracing Mother Theresa’s mantra to do small things with great love – using your energy as a spiritual force to give others spiritual encouragement.

Joining me in accepting our humanness and vulnerability – allowing others to gift us with the spiritual encouragement we need.

In all of this, I hope our combined efforts of spiritual encouragement will help deepen the intimacy of our communities and strengthen our solidarity as one family – daughters and sons of the God of all who loves us beyond measure.

Questions to Ponder

Here are some questions to ponder as you consider whether to commit to providing spiritual encouragement to others.

  • What experiences have you had – like Nancy – of awakening to the sacred in your everyday experiences and encounters?
  • In what ways have you experienced energy as a spiritual force?
  • How does Mother Theresa’s mantra to do small things with great love challenge you?
  • What is your experience of providing spiritual encouragement to others?
  • Who are your spiritual encouragers – the people who have encouraged, supported, and empowered you on your spiritual journey?