Over a coffee today, I learned that to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ is not the norm! I shared this piece of biblical wisdom (1 Thessalonians 5:11) on Facebook recently. My coffee partner was a young Lane Cove woman discovering the riches of Christianity. She was quite taken by this verse. I was surprised because I thought this was obvious. As we discussed it further, her surprise was justified. Encouraging and building each other up has largely been replaced by a competitive spirit, at least in modern Sydney. Unfortunately, people tend to be pitted against each other in business, sporting, educational and many other environments. Relationships can become a transactional commodity based upon, ‘How can you benefit me?’ This can even carry over into family dynamics, which is particularly sad. Commodifying someone is to dehumanise them.
I enjoy competitive games and I like to win, but not at all costs. (I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to my family and sporting friends!) Valuing my opponents as people and their self-esteem should always be my first priority. Competitive environments are the trickiest area for me in applying this wisdom. Seeking to encourage others is now just a way of life for me in other areas. It causes me to reflect that it hasn’t always been this way. It is something I have learned through a drip feed of decades of Christian teaching. My self-esteem has also grown via the same source and through wonderful encouragers who told me what they saw in me when I couldn’t see it myself. Both the theory, and in being the recipient of the practice of encouragement, combined to produce this good fruit in me over time.
To sincerely encourage someone can help them tremendously. They may not tell you, nor show immediate signs of the benefit. If they have been subject to many discouraging or dehumanising experiences, they may even reject your encouragement initially. Their emotional ‘bucket’ may be so depleted of good, encouraging content that it will take a long time to fill again. They may not be able to ‘hear’ encouragement, particularly in some areas of their lives where damage has been done. But if you do care for them, continue to try and find an area of their life to build up where they can hear you. To continually look to encourage others is a positive way to live anyway. There is good and bad in everyone. Let’s choose to see the good and acknowledge it.
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.