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As of late, it’s been easy for me to get bogged down in the mire of cultural commentary, political banter, and tense rhetoric. Whether it be the latest Trumpian fare or the newest bit of pop culture controversy, I’ve found plenty of reasons to be upset lately.
I’ve been a pretty negative person in the past and done a poor job of encouraging others, especially those closest to me. When the whirlwind of life’s trials and triumphs spins so fast you forget what day it is, you can tend to forget the humanity of those closest to you—everyone becomes a means to an end.
Amidst what are nothing less than negative times, I think it’s important to stop, breathe, and think about how we might encourage those around us. It seems like everyone is bemoaning life right now because of terrorism, guns, or otherwise. As I read social media, news outlets, etc., it just seems to me that we have plenty of negativity to go around for one reason or another.
So, perhaps what could set Christians apart most in this cultural moment isn’t a baptized belly-aching, but an atmosphere of encouragement. Everyone is angrily advocating for their value systems with every passing tragedy. What if we just took a break from that and tried to lift each other up? I don’t know. I’m just tired of being upset—sad, angry, or otherwise—and I would love to see a bit more positivity in general.
Here are three ways I try to encourage people from time to time. I value words of affirmation and encouragement, so I am most likely to do #1 below, but any of them (and more) are great. Maybe you need to encourage family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, cashiers, waiters, or others. Here are just a few general ways you can encourage people:
I don’t care how you do it. I love writing physical notes to people. But whether you email, text, call, write, or whatever, just tell people you’re thankful for them. Even better? Tell them why. Chances are, across the course of any given day, someone comes to mind you miss from back home, someone runs an errand or covers for you at work, or someone serves you in some way. Just thank these people.
I know Thanksgiving is over, but it’s OK to still be thankful. But while you’re being thankful for your good service or while you’re appreciating the help of your friends amidst a difficult situation, don’t just be thankful; tell them.
There’s a famous poem from a book called A Severe Mercy that demonstrates the goodness in valuing what your loved one values. The author, Sheldon Vanauken, and his wife promised to share everything in life: faith, interests, tastes, etc. They called the promise the “shining barrier.” Susie and I try to follow suit and take interest in each others hobbies as much as possible.
Anyway, I think the “shining barrier” principle is valuable even behind intimate relationships. I think it’s valuable to share interests and values with friends, family, and whomever else in order to build relationship. Here’s the poem:
This present glory, love, once-given grace,
The sum of blessing in a sure embrace,
Must not in creeping separateness decline
But be the centre of our whole design.
We know it’s love that keeps a love secure,
And only by love of love can love endure,
For self’s a killer, reckless of the cost,
And loves of lilactime unloved are lost.
We build our altar, then, to love and keep
The holy flame alight and never sleep:
This darling love shall deepen year by year,
And dearer shall we grow who are so dear.
The magic word is sharing: every stream
Of beauty, every faith and grief and dream;
Go hand in hand in gay companionship –
In sober death no sundering of the grip.
And into love all other loveliness
That we can tease from time we shall impress
Slows dawns and lilacs, traceries of the tress,
The spring and poems, stars and ancient seas.
This splendour is upon us, high and pure
As heaven: and we swear it shall endure:
Swear fortitude for pain and faith for tears
To hold our shining barrier down the years.
You may not realize it, but when you take interest in the interests of others and engage with them on their “home field” of life, it can be a great encouragement. It tells them that what they value matters to you as much as what you value.
I’ve said it and written it numerous times, and I will write it again: one of the best ways you earn the ears of others is by learning to use your own. Not only that, but when you use your ears and listen to the concerns of others, you tell them that what preoccupies them matters to you, and even if you can’t do anything about it, you care.
Take some time this week, or even just when you gather together with family this holiday season, and listen. Just stop talking, and listen to people. Weep with them. Think with them. Analyze with them. Problem solve with them. Laugh with them. But first: listen to them.