When I was in my early 30’s, I confronted a career turning point. The path I was on had dried up. I simply couldn’t continue doing what I was doing, and I had to make a change. Unfortunately, there didn’t appear to be any good options. So, being young and optimistic, I decided to go my own way – launching a career as a consultant.
The feedback I received on that decision was mixed at best. My Mother’s response was not exactly a vote of confidence. “You’ll probably starve” is hardly a compelling endorsement. In the sea of unsolicited advice – good, bad, and mixed – Troy’s response stood out. It was a simple sentence I will never forget: “With your talent, I can’t imagine that you won’t be successful.” He was, frankly, far more confident than I was. I could imagine a hundred ways in which I wouldn’t succeed.
In the face of the difficult challenges that followed, Troy’s affirmation encouraged me over and over again. His words kept me going when the days were difficult, the barriers seemed insurmountable, and the odds of success were long. That one sentence helped me persevere in creating a career path that lasted for 40 years. I doubt Troy had any idea how significant his encouragement was, but I will be forever grateful for the confidence he expressed so clearly and simply. Thanks, Troy!
Encouragement is a powerful force. We all face life’s challenges – from difficult choices and the need to change to experiencing setbacks or tragedies that threaten to derail us. In those moments, encouragement can help us find the power to cope, the inner strength to do what we have to do, and the courage to keep going.
Dictionaries provide multiple ways to describe what it means to encourage others. The definitions include “to inspire with courage, spirit, and hope;” “to spur on, stimulate;” “hearten;” “give support, confidence, or hope;” “uplift, motivate.” 1
Both Troy’s encouragement and the above definitions make it clear that encouragement is a spiritual force. It – quite literally – gives us courage, bolsters our spirits, heartens us, inspires us, and stimulates our power to cope.
For those of us who approach life as a spiritual journey, encouragement plays an even more vital role.
The spiritual journey urges us to awaken to life’s meaning and recognize the many ways God’s presence pervades our lives. We need the encouragement of others to keep our eyes open, embrace mystery, and accept the challenge of going deeper.
When we struggle in our commitment to discipleship, the forces of inner resistance and ambivalence loom large. We need the encouragement of others who share the journey to spur us on, give us the courage to stay the course, and the make the difficult choices that are necessary.
It is precisely because we all need encouragement that we also need to encourage one another. We are intimately connected – sharing the solidarity of the human family that unites us. When one of us struggles, we all share that struggle. We are connected in the unity of being children of God. The power of that relationship is beyond family or tribe, deeper than culture and nation, more profound than any ideology. It transcends race, ethnicity, gender identity, and any force that seeks to divide us.
As part of that unity, we are called to encourage one another in ways both small and large.
Small encouragements can make a big difference. Troy’s one sentence affirmation gave me the courage to overcome difficult challenges. I’ve seen a smile receive a welcome response and a kind word change a mood. I’ve seen calling someone by name bring the person to life, and I’ve seen asking the right question open up the opportunities for support and friendship. The only thing such small encouragements takes is the energy to reach out and extend ourselves. Every chance to send positive energy to someone who needs it is an opportunity to encourage.
Larger encouragements are more demanding. My friend Steve worked for years as a teacher devoted to helping kids on the verge of failure stay in school until they graduated. He tells the story of one young man who was barely getting by in school. Steve and his fellow teachers reached out to help. As Steve describes it: “We just wouldn’t let him go.” The young man not only graduated, he went on to a good job and became a loving husband and father. That significant effort of “not letting go” is yielding generational returns.
No matter how motivated and persistent we are, we all have our moments – times when the noise and clutter of life confuse and disorient us. At those times, we need the encouragement of others. We also need to take responsibility for being the one to encourage others.
Someone once put it this way: “A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.” 2 Troy was such a friend to me, and I hope you have a list of those who have been Troy for you. I also hope that each of us will find ways both small and large to be Troy for others.
Thanks, Troy! Your encouragement got me through some difficult times. Now, my challenge is to pay it forward.
Turning Insight into Action
As we deepen our appreciation of encouragement as a spiritual force, we can live that insight by:
- Thanking someone – today – who has encouraged us . . .
- Taking the time – today – to encourage someone else . . . You never know when one
sentence might help change someone’s life . . .
1 These definitions come from two sources: the first three quotes are from the Dictionary by
Merriam-Webster; the last two are from The Oxford English Dictionary.
2 This quote is sometimes attributed to Donna Roberts, but I am unsure of its exact origin. It has
also been misattributed to C.S. Lewis. (Lewis left us many great quotes about friendship, but
this is not one of them.)