Small Acts of Encouragement

If I could choose one word to summarize my emotional state for the past year, it would be discouraged. On any number of metrics, from the environment to immigration to race relations, I see progress not only stalled but going in reverse. 

This affects me on multiple levels. Instead of finding comfort in Scripture, I stumble over passages that make me angry. Psalm 91 is a great example:

He will cover you with his feathers,

    and under his wings you will find refuge;

    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night,

    nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,

    nor the plague that destroys at midday.

A thousand may fall at your side,

    ten thousand at your right hand,

    but it will not come near you.

If this is actually meant to be a promise of protection—versus a meme or a comforting thought—then how do I understand it in light of the thousands of children being separated from their families when they cross the US border? I find myself wondering if this is only applicable for kings or other men in power, which feels cynical and ugly.

My normally vibrant prayer life has withered. I typically sit in what feels like a state of shock and cry. Because prayer seems to have little if any impact on these issues, I feel helpless. What can a 50 something housewife actually do? I can’t rewrite policy. I can’t sway the judges and in fact, increasingly it seems I can’t even influence friends who hold radically different perspectives than me. It’s very easy to assume that I’m wasting my time trying. 

But a few weeks ago, I began to recognize that as a lie of the enemy. A deceit that he would love to leverage to keep me quiet and hopeless. 

Rather than giving in to my discouragement, I’m fighting back. Despite my many limitations and lack of clout, there’s one small thing I know I can do: offer encouragement to those around me. By standing in Christ and paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing, I not only feel less impotent but perhaps can help someone else climb out of their pit of despair.   

During church last week, I sensed the Holy Spirit working through one of the musicians to usher in beauty. It was transcendent and deeply moving. Almost immediately, I felt God prompting me to tell this man what I noticed and to also communicate that this was a picture of how he lived his life: he brings beauty with him wherever he goes. Here’s the thing. I don’t know him. I’m new at this church. I worried that he would dismiss me and I’d feel like a jerk. But it seemed like a small risk so I found him after the service and shared what I hoped was an encouragement from the Lord. It hit the mark and he expressed deep gratitude. 

Later that week, I cancelled my plans and went to the movies with a friend who was dealing with some serious setbacks. We stood in the parking lot after watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and she shared her pain. (If you need some inspiration, Fred Rogers is your man!) As I listened, that familiar powerlessness swept in. I could not fix anything for her. But I could be present, give her a hug, and pray. 

I feel self-conscious sharing these two events as it seems that these are the sort of things that should be done in secret. I’m being specific not to promote myself but to make it clear that the bar is low. We can all do this. 

What I’ve repeatedly experienced is that when I choose to encourage others through word or deed, my own discouragement gets smaller and loses power.

In God’s upside down economy, when I give away what I need, it somehow comes back to me. 

I know I’m not the only one who is battling discouragement. Many of us are bone weary. Even in that place of fatigue and grief, if we allow the Holy Spirit to resource us, we can step outside of ourselves and look for those who need encouragement almost as much as they need oxygen and water. 

We might not be able to speak at a United Nations hearing or convince Trump that a border wall is not going to solve any of our problems, but we can turn to our spouse, our children, our siblings, or our neighbors and leave a them a deposit of hope. This small gesture may not feel like much, but it might actually be the difference between life and death. So many of us are bruised reeds. Let’s join together and tenderly care for each other in these dark days.  

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. (John 1:5)

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Dorothy Greco
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