Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
July 19, 2009
The journey may be hard but encouragement helps us endure
The recent serious illness of my wife caused me to take a fresh look at my priorities. Such wake-up calls are always helpful. Human nature being what it is we all tend to lose focus on what really matters. The jarring prospect of losing someone you love dearly can clear the cobwebs from your brain.
Putting first things first is never easy. But it is possible. And it is necessary if we are to live well. Now and then we must stop the merry-go-round, look in the mirror, and take an honest look at how we are living. Are the choices we are making everyday helping us to make the most of our brief span of life?
Trouble reminds us that the journey of life can be long and hard. None of us is immune from suffering. Our personal problems may be difficult but we quickly discover that others are hurting too. To be human is to suffer.
Life is hard. But it is also a mixture of good and bad. There is pain and there is pleasure. We may be laughing one day and crying the next. As we grow up we learn to accept the bitter with the sweet, the rain with the sunshine. Reasonably mature people find a way to handle this mixture. Otherwise they become cynical, allowing the bad stuff to rob them of their joy.
Maturity does not come easily. It comes gradually, usually the result of a lifelong search. None of us reaches it without help. The help we all need is that strange thing we call encouragement. It is hard to describe but when you receive it, you know you have been given something more valuable than money.
Oddly, the only people who can offer us encouragement are fellow strugglers, friends who step outside their own troubles long enough to come alongside us and cheer us up. So often the people who come to comfort us when we are hurting are themselves in pain. The fact that they do not speak of their own pain makes their comfort all the more wonderful.
Encouragement is like oxygen; we will die without it. People do not die from loneliness; they die from the lack of encouragement. Everybody needs somebody who will encourage them to persevere and not give up. But we soon learn that it is foolish to expect encouragement from everyone. Those who become cynical are simply unable to encourage others.
All of us have some people in our lives who are examiners rather than encouragers. Examiners constantly evaluate us. They enjoy pointing out what is wrong with us. Examiners try to convince us we are inadequate and that we will never make it no matter how hard we try.
Encouragers offer us affirmation instead of criticism. They are our cheerleaders. They give us hope that “we can do it.” Their praise inspires us to believe in ourselves and to reach for the best that we can be. And it is good news that every person has the potential to be an encourager to some fellow struggler. Each of us can choose to live as an examiner or an encourager.
During recent days of soul-searching many of my encouragers have come alongside us with hope and comfort. They have laughed with us, hugged us, prayed for us, and made us feel loved. They have generously blessed us with food and flowers. They have put their own pain aside long enough to care for us. And they have made a profound difference. We have been cheered far beyond our deserving. Love does indeed ease one’s pain.
Once more Dean and I have been reminded that though the journey home is sometimes long and hard, the loving encouragement of friends helps us endure. And what is true for us is true for others. As strength returns, we must be up and doing the things that matter most. As long as we have breath, we too can make the hard journey of others more bearable by offering the precious gift of encouragement. Doing so will help us to put first things first. + + +