“Where seldom is heard a discouraging word….” ∗

Encouragement is important.

My favorite character in the Bible is a little known disciple, called “Barnabas” a name which literally means, “Son of Encouragement.” We don’t know exactly who Barnabas is other than his real name was Joseph and that he was a Cypriot Jew who helped to introduce and vouch for the new believing Paul to the apostles at Jerusalem. Barnabas was a person whose attitude of encouragement for others led people to give him a name that characterized him in the most positive way I can imagine. The word “encouragement” here is similar to the Greek word, paracletos, which means “one who comes along side to support or advocate for another.” The term is like the good defense attorney who stands in your court. I admire anyone who is so encouraging that their nickname is something like that!

People need encouragement and I have a long-time commitment to being an encourager. I try to encourage someone in every social situation that I find myself in.  For example, I try not to leave church or a party or day of work without saying an encouraging word to someone there. Too many people around us live lives of deep discouragement and frustration. The world speaks discouragement into our situations almost constantly. People feel so lost and alone with no one who knows them. I feel that bringing encouragement into your situations is a way to help others make it to the next day and maybe to take the example you’ve shown and pass it along. To be an encourager means to come along side and say to people, “You can do it and here is why I believe it.”  An encourager is one of those people who run along side a lagging runner with a water bottle and say, “Look up at the finish line. You are almost there. I can see the end.”

Paying attention to the good things that people do—their good qualities, their talents, their successes, their struggles, their hopes, their dreams—will make you a better encourager.

Mere flattery or empty words do not encourage, because the person you are speaking with knows that you haven’t put time into thinking about what you are saying. Such words do not have the ring of truth. The lack of specifics in such attempts will make the hearer feel like you are speaking to make yourself heard more than you are to give specific help and courage.  Encouraging people will speak specifically and in detail about why they believe the encouragement is valid. If you know someone or even if you have only a limited knowledge about someone, you can often draw from that knowledge to affirm some specific, personal characteristics, such as “I have seen you be very thoughtful toward others when no one is looking, which leads me to believe that you are a kind person and the nasty words that X said are not true,” or “I know that you are a good worker because I have seen how diligently you worked on that non-profit project last year. I am sure that you will succeed in this new endeavor” or “I know that you will find the right job soon.”  Accurate and pertinent affirmative words are very powerful encouragements. Often people will hang on to such words as a kind of lifeline, well beyond the time that you have forgotten that you said them.

It is true that no one is perfect and even when you want to be encouraging, you can let slip some critical or discouraging words. And yes, sometimes people forget the constant encouragement you’ve given, only to remember the infrequent slip-ups of discouragement that you gave them. Apologize and move on. Whether the person acknowledges you as an encourager or not is not the point: what is the point is that you have tried to build people up in ways that are truly helpful, that you have learned from your mistakes, and that you keep at it.

When “seldom” is heard a discouraging word, it does indeed feel like a cloudless, sunny day and people will like to be around you. It is a kind way to speak.

∗Brewster M. Higley, lyricist, “Home on the Range”

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