I am a great fan of being on the receiving end of encouragement. Probably its number 1 fan, in fact. So much so, that the smallest like of a post or comment on my blog can send me day-dreaming for hours about making it to the top of the Amazon charts with a book I don’t even have a concept for yet.
More frequently, though, I sink into the ‘slough of despond,’ longing for encouragement that doesn’t come. The problem with encouragement is that it is a Tricky Topic. If you start speaking honestly about the need for more of it, it makes you look a bit unhinged at best, desperate and needy at worst. If you rant about it and then some lands in your inbox, you feel like the encourager was only encouraging because they knew you were desperate for encouragement. Am I still making sense?
A day I had a work, a couple of weeks ago, epitomised the problem perfectly; I was having a wobbly patch and did the mortifying thing where you are having a conversation with your boss and your voice cracks and launches into a sentence an octave higher than you intended. You know they have noticed. You swallow hard and move on to cover it. Later that day, when the Head Teacher paid me a compliment, I burst back into the office, demanding to know whether my Head of Department had put him up to it, to cheer me up. He hadn’t and we both laughed about it, but it accentuated, for me, some of the hurdles to being encouraged and being an encourager.
We know, as writers, that the words we write on our blog posts, works in progress, pitches and marketing campaigns matter. We spend hours crafting them and getting them just so. But do we think as hard about the comments we write (or don’t write) on Facebook posts and each others’ blogs, on Twitter and in reviews? Perhaps we should. Our words, in those contexts have tremendous power, too. I am always astonished at the tiny percentage of people who read my blog (I can’t speak for others, as I can only see the stats for my own, but I don’t doubt that many would report similar), who actually stop to give it a like or a comment. I can be guilty of it myself – I will enjoy having a scroll through a post and feel enlightened or entertained by it ; but then the rice boils over, the children squabble and I close it and swipe it away, without leaving a trace of my presence there.
I don’t love everything I read. Neither will you. It is generally wiser to leave something unsaid, if it is going to cause harm and upset. But if you, like me, read blogs and enjoy them, or novels and would recommend them, why not take more time to comment and encourage? There have been melodramatic moments, in my writing, when I have resolved not to bother to write any more - nobody reads it, everyone is better than me anyway. And in those times, even one, brief but well-worded, uplifting comment can be enough to spur me on, to find my courage again where I had left it on the roadside, pick it up and keep going.
Likewise, sharing. My personal blog (and this one) has a limited reach, with even my best attempts at social media airtime. With a couple of shares it can double, triple, even quadruple its reach and therefore the people it touches. Why don’t we do this, for each other more, for no other reason than to encourage and boost each others’ profile and reach, with no ulterior motives – just to shout to others that they too should read the work that we’ve enjoyed?
At the risk of delivering a sermon, the Greek word for encourage (parakaleo) shares its root with the word for Holy Spirit (parakletos) – to draw close, to walk beside. Could it be said that we are engaging in the very work of the Holy Spirit when we draw alongside someone to encourage, strengthen and spur them on? The word is used 109 times in the New Testament. So let’s get to it – let’s do it. Put a comment on that blog you’ve just read (or the Facebook or Twitter post, if you are un-techy like me and can’t for the life of you work out how to get your browser to allow you to comment directly on a blog), share that post that made you smile or cry. Tag a huge group of people in a Twitter post promoting someone else’s work. Write that review that’s sunk to the bottom of your to-do list.
Of course, we shouldn’t rely on the encouragement of others – anything that we become too dependent on is an idol. The only sensible conclusion I can reach in the ‘encouragement conundrum’ is that we should all take responsibility for becoming better at encouraging – whilst simultaneously working with God on becoming better at living without any but His.
Proverbs 12v25 says “A word of encouragement DOES WONDERS” (NLT) – this is stunningly, excruciatingly true. Let’s make it a priority today – and next week and next month and next year. Who knows what impact we could have on one another and our work?