Sphere of Influence: The Strong Gift of Encouragement
June 11, 2014
Jennifer Hagler Photography
By Buffy York
Written by Laura DiFatta
Once, when our first-born was about eight months old, I called another mom–who was ahead of me in the great adventure called parenthood–in a panic. What was the crisis? I was exhausted and stressed because Jake would not go to sleep for a nap unless I walked around with him for about an hour! This was a twice-a-day battle. The books said he needed two naps a day and that he should go to sleep on his own. I even had a plan to follow and he was NOT cooperating! Day after day of this had me at my wit’s end. It seems almost silly now, but it felt heavy then. My friend did not belittle me and tell me it was no big deal, instead she listened to me cry for a while. And then she said something I’ll never forget. “Laura, you’re his mom. You can do this.” I was really surprised at how empowering those words from her were. Believe it or not, that really was a turning point for me. Her encouragement gave me a sense of strength and a fresh sense of my role as a mother. I felt a new confidence well up within me.
As a mother and as a wife, I have spent many moments with friends exchanging stories, laughing over hilarious things our children have done and giving and receiving encouragement. The “you-can-do-this” moments have been sprinkled throughout and have often splashed onto dry ground within me at just the right time.
Another time in my life that I needed encouragement was when we were enduring an incomparably graver crisis. It occurred when our third son, at three months old, was fighting for his life from sudden and unexpected heart failure. I remember about a week into his hospitalization, reluctantly being driven home briefly to shower and grab a few fresh clothes before returning to the hospital. I went upstairs to go to my room to shower and instead of turning left to my room, I turned right to Trent’s room. I went to his crib and ran my hand over his sheets and wailed in agony. I didn’t know if he would ever sleep in his crib again. I went to his window, opened the curtain, got on my knees and cried out to the Lord in anguish. I poured out my heart to Him in a raw, choking rush of emotion. At some point, I went downstairs to find my mother standing in my kitchen. She looked at me wide-eyed and then just took me in her arms. She just held me there as I wailed. There was nothing to say. No words were needed. I’m not even sure words would have been useful at that moment. Her strong, mother-love let me grieve honestly. I don’t think she ever said anything, but her fortitude shored me up and I was able to go again to our baby’s bedside and stand vigil. I am so grateful for her quiet strength that spoke volumes and undergirded me with much needed encouragement when I was so weak.
Encouragement by definition is “giving courage, hope and confidence to,” “to give help to.” Help through encouragement has been a balm to me countless times and has come to me in various forms: through words from friends and family, sweet notes from my husband, a beautiful sunrise, an unexpected hug from one of my boys, even time to time from strangers in moments of sweet serendipity. But, my favorite form of encouragement is from the Bible. In it, I find flawed people like me walking through all kinds of circumstances, including deep trials, finding direction, peace, strength and, yes, encouragement from God. Jesus, the Son of God, embodies strength and power and always love. His being the very representation of God astonishes me because He loved most evidently and lavishly as He put Himself in my place, suffering my death sentence because of my wrong-doing, my sin, so that I could have peace. I have peace with God, peace within myself and peace knowing that I am loved no matter what. Religion does not encourage me. Jesus does. His Word does. I love Jesus because He loved me first and I know He loves me best. I am most fulfilled through Him. Life in this world can be hard, but because of Him, I want to actively encourage others as I have been encouraged. I want to bear Hope into others’ lives. I can do that most effectively through my relationship with Him. You can have that too.
We each have a God-given sphere of influence through which we can encourage others uniquely. To be an intentional encourager, look for the people you interact with daily and intentionally look for opportunities to leave them better having spent time with you. Use your giftedness to be a blessing to others, to shore up an area of weakness. Through our relationships, through the beauty around us, through the giftedness of others, we can be encouraged and we can also encourage.
If you need encouragement, seek someone out. I’ve never raised a teen before. I’m mind-boggled almost daily. And while I know God is with me, sometimes I need Jesus with “skin on.” Can you relate? A few months ago, I intentionally sought out a mentor. She is a mom who has four older boys. She now advises me and encourages and teaches me from a perspective of experience and empathy. You may be going through a crisis that someone has experienced and has lived through who can speak encouragement into you like no one else can. You may be that person to someone else. You may just need to be reminded to stop and be encouraged in your spirit by looking around and appreciating the beauty around you.
Encouragement comes in many forms and it is available to you. You are not alone, nor were you meant to be. As you are vulnerable and admit need to yourself and perhaps to someone else, you just may find a flowing river of encouragement run through your soul that sweeps away debris and enables you to experience joy. In your appreciation of beauty in others you may find renewed gratitude and appreciation and perhaps a fresh awareness of your own giftedness as well.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11