It can be a dog-eat-dog kind of world out there. Every day, I hear of people who are facing difficult and trying circumstances– health issues, loss of a job or home, loss of a family member or close friend, depression, oppression, harassment, rebellious or estranged children, abuse, academic failures, exhaustion from being provider, caregiver, etc.– even just daily stress. It can really take a toll. But it becomes even more difficult when we isolate ourselves.
When I get stressed, I tend to withdraw. I don’t want others to think of me as a failure, or to think less of me in my struggles. But this is one of the worst things I can do. First, it means more worry and stress because I’m bearing the burden alone! Second, it forces me to cover up my level of anxiety or depression be pretending that things are fine then they aren’t. That would all be bad enough, but it gets worse. Isolating means my focus turns inward– my problems become bigger, not smaller; I’m so close to the problem, I’m not able to “look outside the box” for solutions, because my box keeps closing in on me. I can’t see beyond my circumstances to understand if they are temporary, or if they necessitate some life changes on the other side of whatever crisis I’m dealing with. And, worst of all, the only voice I listen to is my own, rehearsing and reminding me of the difficulties or failures I’m facing.
We all need an encouraging word now and then; a voice telling us that we are not alone; that all is not lost; that there is hope. I have been blessed with wonderful family, friends, and neighbors who are great about encouraging me, even when I try to shut them out or pretend that everything is grand. Sometimes that encouragement comes through conversation; sometimes a card or text message or a shared piece of scripture; sometimes it comes through prayer. I may not even know who prayed, or what words they used until days or weeks later, but their faithfulness in praying has become a lifeline when I feel isolated and overwhelmed.
This does not negate my need to pray and ask God for wisdom, healing, or strength for myself, nor does it suggest that God doesn’t answer my prayers. Instead, it shows a pattern– God often answers our prayers by incorporating and using those around us. God’s goodness and his love are shown best in teamwork. We run the race to win, but we race together as teammates, not competitors. We share sorrows, struggles, and joys. We come alongside; we lift others up, and they lift us up in return.
Encouragement does so much, we sometimes underestimate its power. In a world of sniping, criticism, name-calling, and finger-pointing, encouragement does the following:
- It lets someone know that they are seen and heard– that they are being noticed, thought of, and valued. This shouldn’t be uncommon, but in a world where we are connected to so many be technology, and to so few face-to-face, it is HUGE!
- It give us perspective to realize that we are not alone in our problems and not unique in facing difficulties.
- It reminds us that hope and help are gifts to be shared, not something we must earn.
- It gives us a purpose and a mission to be part of God’s redemptive work– Jesus gave encouragement and hope to those who needed it most, not to those who “deserved” it.
It can be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but we are not dogs. We are children of the King. Let’s send out some encouraging words today!
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)
Also see James 5:13-16 on praying for one another.