Encouragement is the infusing of courage into others. We can encourage ourselves as well with the way we think about and toward ourselves and the situations around us. Encouragement shares support and hope, and it is an integral building block, discipline, and fruit of faith. As important as it is, we get it wrong much of the time.
Encouragement can be limited as affirmation, but it is so much more. Encouragement can be as simple as a “Way to go! Keep it up!” But encouragement is also a kind of mentoring, which includes teaching, modeling, and correcting. Healthy encouragement is accountability. It’s speaking the truth in love. It’s having enough respect and love for the other person that you want the very best for them, and that means having difficult conversations at times.
Unhealthy encouragement and accountability is rampant. It seems the generally accepted ways to communicate include either accusing and shaming others, dismissing others, or quickly affirming them without asking much about the situation and motivation. And those dynamics are rampant on social media. We do the same in person. We share without checking the background of what we’re sharing. Or we dismiss without looking at the whole of something in an attempt to find common ground.
In Christian circles, we hold back at times because we don’t want to offend anyone. We’ll confront people outside the church, people who are different than us, who we don’t have a relationship with, who we see as having big sin issues. But people who sit around us in worship services and around our living rooms and kitchens, people we know well, have good relationships with that would withstand some struggles, people who might not like what we have to say but would likely listen, people who might not have the sin issues we see as big, but…because we’re not willing to speak the truth in love to them, those issues that seem easily excusable become big deals over time. The responsibility for that sin has spread, because, in simple terms, we’ve decided encouragement is all about flowers and butterflies instead of dealing with cultivating a garden.
Those flowers and butterflies don’t appear without someone doing some work. You might like to sit in your porch swing with your lemonade and enjoy time together, but avoiding the sweaty, dirty work of cultivation will limit the type and reach of fellowship and influence you have at some point.
The discipline of encouragement affects our gratitude because of how we see it. If we see encouragement as being nice and affirming others (and others affirming us), we probably see gratitude as plucking to pretty flower out to admire instead of finding value in the life stages around it.