“How is it going today?”
“How are the kids?”
“How is work?”
How many times a day do we repeat these normal social interactions where we all affirm that everything is just fine in our lives. While these are normal pleasantries that we all participate in, they do mask the reality that for most us – it is not Ok. Whether it is aging parents, wayward teens, or our own health, marital, or economic problems, the reality is that we are all working through our own difficulties. I have learned that outward appearances do not always give the whole picture. Often just beneath the surface of success and togetherness are lives that are falling apart.
However, this stark reality creates opportunity for each of us. We all have the ability to reach out and offer a precious gift – the gift of encouragement.
I lost my father just as I entered my adult years. While there are so many things I continue to miss about him, one in particular stands out. He had a tremendous gift of encouragement. It was if he had a special sense of when someone was hurting and in need.
Growing up, I could not understand why he would seem to linger and talk to strangers in a checkout line or out at dinner. Over time, I realized that in those moments he was sowing a seed. He was offering what we all have to offer – a word of encouragement. While he had his flaws like all of us do, I have particular admiration for how he recognized and used this powerful gift.
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul describes various spiritual gifts that, by God’s grace, are given in the Body of Christ. One of the gifts he references is the gift of encouragement (Romans 12:8). God knows that we are a hurting people, and yet he gives us the ability to lift each other up. Paul emphasized this point in his letter to the believers in Ephesus when he wrote “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29).
Recently, after a particularly difficult day, I was about to close down my computer when I received an email from a friend who just stopped to share a word of encouragement. There was no agenda or insincere flattery – simply a note to encourage me in my journey of life. Truly, it made my day. I was inspired to stop and think how often I take time to offer a sincere word of encouragement. Am I truly listening to hear what is going in the lives of others? Am I pre-occupied with my needs versus being in tuned with the needs of others? Do I have good intentions to encourage others but never really take the time to act?
As we approach Valentines Day this Sunday, may we recognize the true year round gift of encouragement that we all have the ability to give. May we have a sense of when someone needs a special word of encouragement and freely share. As ambassadors of Christ in the marketplace, may we be known for sincerely sharing this gift in a hurting world. Happy Valentines Day!