Over a coffee recently, I learned that to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’ is not the norm! My coffee partner was a young Lane Cove woman discovering the riches of Christianity. She was quite taken by this piece of biblical wisdom (1 Thessalonians 5:11) which I had shared on Facebook recently. I was surprised, because I thought this was obvious. As we discussed it further, it became clear her surprise was justified. Encouraging and building each other up can easily be replaced by a competitive spirit. Unfortunately, people tend to be pitted against each other in business, sporting, educational and many other environments. Relationships can become a trade commodity based upon, ‘How can you benefit me?’ When this carries over into family dynamics, it 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 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. Hearing the teaching, augmented by my personal experience 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 helpful, 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. Remember, there is good and bad in everyone. Let’s choose to focus on the good and acknowledge it.
The articles here are currently written by Liam McKenna, Lane Cove Community Chaplain.