enCOURAGEment

A couple of weeks ago, a friend challenged what he perceived to be my lack of courage. He suggested that fear was driver for a recent decision I made. Historically yes, I told him, I have lacked the courage to do hard things. As a natural-born people pleaser, I have historically avoided conflict. I’ve done whatever was necessary to not kick the hornet’s nest, but sometimes the hornet’s nest needs to be kicked. He was right in identifying that fear has been one of my primary motivators, and I told him so.

What I did not tell him was that the decision that he thought lacked courage was probably the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

This morning, I was thinking about encouragement and it dawned on me for the first time that the root word for encouragement is courage. I don’t know why I never realized that before. So¬† I began to ask, what then is the process of encouragement? Who is an encourager? Encouragement is the process of telling others that you believe in them; it is communicating that yes, you believe they can do something difficult. That you have faith that they can step bravely into the unknown.

My friend Larry wrote a book on Encouragement. It’s a book about coming alongside other people, entering their battle. But encouragement is not simply telling others nice things about themselves. It is not simply saying, “everything will be okay” because maybe it won’t. Perhaps encouragement is saying, “I know this is hard. I cannot do this for you. You may be entering into a space where you will be hurt. You are walking into the unknown. There may be traps and pitfalls and difficulties. Perhaps even death. But I believe you and I am for you.” Encouragers ask would you rather die on the right battlefield or live comfortably on the wrong one. Courage involves entering into places and situations that we would rather not. An encourager says, “I am with you.”

Encouragers ask would you rather die on the right battlefield or live comfortably on the wrong one.

Life is not made up of pleasantries, pleasures, and constant positivity. God never said it would be. Life here can be filled with pain, hardship, and relational breakdown. Despite our titan efforts to avoid pain, or to pretend it away, it still comes. It is unavoidable. The question that each of us must face is “will I step into the pain, into the darkness, into the battle?” Will we follow God into the unknown? Are we willing to do it afraid? Are we willing to be called cowardly even in the midst of the most courageous thing we’ve ever done? Are we willing to be told we lack character when it is from a place of integrity that we are acting? Are we willing to go it alone if necessary?

Thankfully, encouragers never leave us to ourselves. Even if we must step into the confusion on our own, encouragers are behind us whispering, “I am for you.”

If we are honest, the way ahead is unknown for all of us. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. We are all faced with confusion and uncertainty. That is a necessary part of life under the sun. But when we’re afraid, we must notice the encouragers grabbing our hands and reminding us, “You’ve got this. I believe in you.”

A full search into our own soul causes life to begin, not end. And then it’s as if we’ve never lived before. Dark nights may not go away, but they hold the promise of a bright morning. This world’s sunsets become another world’s sunrises. And joy comes into sight.–Larry Crabb

Lord, Thou has made Thyself to me
A living, bright reality,
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any earthly object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the closest earthly tie.

-Charlotte Elliott

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing–to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from”–Psyche in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces

At some point in their lives, every person should hear someone say to them, “you are beautiful.”-John O’Donohue

Why are we so afraid?

Why do we so commonly teach people to be afraid?

Afraid of bridges. Afraid of spiders. Afraid of the dark.

Afraid of red meat. Afraid of processed foods. Afraid of water from the tap.

Afraid of guns. Afraid of immigrants. Afraid of culture. Afraid of public schools. Afraid of democrats. Afraid of republicans. Afraid of Muslims. Afraid of our neighbors. Afraid of strangers.

Afraid of cancer. Afraid of ebola. Afraid of death. Afraid of life, at least one fully lived.

Afraid of conflict. Afraid of vulnerability. Afraid of truth. Afraid of exposure. Afraid of friendships. Afraid of disappointing people.

Afraid of being unknown. Afraid of being known.

Afraid of being a disappointment to God.

We set up cultures of fear. We lead people to believe that the Christian life is lived upon a tightrope. Blindfolded. One wrong step and…disaster. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said to his best friends, “why are you so afraid?” He invited them, and us, to live lives of love. St. John wrote that we cannot embody love and remain afraid.

Our mission is not fear, but love. We were not called to live life upon a tightrope weaved by the Old Covenant standards and laws of our own making, but to dance in a wide green pasture. We were not called to live with blinders on, but with our eyes wide open to the beauty and wonder of God.

I wish to enter every conversation,
whether in conflict or commonality,
whether with friend or foe,
with an overwhelming peace
grounded in the knowledge
of the steadfast love of God,
remaining present to whatever
the Spirit may bring about.

Life consists of three loves:
Love of God,
Love of self,
Love of others.
If we are to live fully;
If we are to grow toward wholeness;
If we are to feed the hungry hearts of others
Each love must be developed separately
Then carefully and patiently integrated.

-Betty Skinner

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