Dictionary.com defines "encourage" in three ways:
- to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence: His coach encouraged him throughout the marathon race to keep on running.
- to stimulate by assistance, approval, etc.: One of the chief duties of a teacher is to encourage students.
- to promote, advance, or foster: Poverty often encourages crime.
An example from my past that may be relevent follows. Many of you know I didn't have the easiest childhood or home life growing up. Without laying blame, it would be fair to say that as I reached adulthood, I was not the most confident of people, and there were some people that could read that and exploited it for all it was worth for a period of time. Over a number of years, I found my footing, and my confidence (in Christ), and got on with my life. Last December, the company I worked for was bought by its main competitor and about 90 percent of us were laid off on December 6, 2010. For about a week, I was tooling around trying to figure out what to do with my life. I decided to take December off to figure it out, and basically avoid the rejection that goes with looking for a job. When you grow up like I did, rejection is a big show stopper if you let it be.
In January, I spent about 1 week looking for work, and came across an opportunity to begin my own financial planning practice. I met with the fellow that would become my Division Director at Investors Group, and he was encouraging. He inspired confidence and boldness in me to a point. However, there was a part of me that was still a scared little boy, still raw from all the hurt put on me by an abusive father. During my childhood, I never heard phrases like, "I love you, son, and I'm proud of you." It was more like, "Get up, you stupid little bastard!" after my dad had hit me hard enough to knock the sense out of me. People say that doesn't leave scars. I would like to inform those people that they are most definitely and decidedly wrong.
Towards the end of January, as I was putting some of the stuff I needed into place (like licensing) to begin my career in financial planning, I had this overwhelming desire to get back in touch with my father. We hadn't spoken in 20 years. I had to face this man who was my father, who I now understood wasn't really a monster, he was doing the best he could with what he knew. I sent him an email, and we were talking on the phone within 5 minutes. I got to say everything I needed to say - and my dad took responsibility for his acts and apologized! I really wasn't expecting that, but you can imagine how I felt!
Later in the spring (late May I think), my dad came to visit me. I told him what I was up to, and then he told me that he was proud of me, and that he had no doubt that I could do this, and even offered to get my uncle (a financial planner for 25 years or more) involved if I needed help. Now THAT was ENCOURAGING. That is to say, it inspired me with courage and boldness for my new chosen profession.
Contrast this to a brother who was attempting to "encourage" someone in their job search. "Brother, I don't think you're looking hard enough for work. I think you should be looking harder, and for any old job that will pay the bills. After all, if a man doesn't work, he shouldn't eat." So...was that what you would want to hear, just having graduated university, with enough funding to get you through a 6-month period and access to more if you needed it, and looking for about 6 solid hours a day by phone and by foot already? I know it wasn't what I was ready to hear. Interestingly, the statement that was made had the same resulting action. I was motivated to get out there and look harder. But by what?
Encouragement should inspire courage and action. There is another source that can inspire to action - fear and/or guilt. Now given the choice, which would you respond to with a better outlook?
Since my dad died about a month ago, I have made it one of my missions to try to be an encouraging man, as opposed to someone that inspires fear and guilt. I'm not all the way there yet, but I have seen some improvements, especially in my kids' attitudes.
Lord, help me be an encourager, with the right word at the right time to inspire courage and hope in their hearts.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)