Encouragement: Why do we need it?

encourage one another

I was recently asked to think of one or two things that encourage me.   I thought about it. At first I thought, “Does this mean how people encourage me or the world around me or when I do a good job?    I thought about what it is like to be   encouraged. How it uplifts in positive ways, whether it is a person who affirms me, or when I am out and see an eagle fly over my head or when I am successful with a finished project.  I was determined to find the fullest meaning possible. This meant asking questions.  Why do we need it?  What is it like when we don’t experience it?  Why do we sometimes reject encouragement? Then I thought what does encouragement actually mean? So I looked it up.

Encouragement: “the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.”  I sat with this and as I looked closely at the word itself I realized the word :courage” is nestled in between En-&- ment. So I looked up the word Courage: “the ability to do something that frightens one and or to find strength in the face of pain or grief.” This led me to  think about dis-courage which mean: “to cause (someone) to lose confidence or enthusiasm.”

I thought about this for several days.  Another interesting thing that emerged is that encouragement and Discouragement are verbs. The word courage is actually a noun.  I started to imagine courage as  a container. That can be filled and emptied.

My nephew is a junior in college and I recently visited him there.  We went to supper.  A few weeks before at my Ordination he was a most gracious host.  Later, several people let me know what a wonderful kind Gentleman he had become. As I was driving up to see him I looked forward to sharing this.  At the Restaurant, I told him what a friend or two had told me and how proud I was of him.  He had to overcome many challenges and obstacles yet managed to use them as stepping stones not stumbling blocks.  As I spoke these words to him he began to sit up straighter in his chair and listen intently.  I could see in his eyes that something good was happening to his soul.   A little later, he began to share that he had slept in that morning and missed two classes which caused him to really be down on himself.  He said it happens around this time every semester. I smiled and said yes it is the infamous midterm slump.  I encouraged him saying every semester is like a marathon and you’re at heartbreak hill. You can make it!!!!! Then I     So I shared my thoughts on encouragement and courage being a vessel that can be filled or poured out.   I said encouragement is like thirst quenching water while discouragement takes it all away.   He was astonished as he had never heard anything like that and in that moment it made sense to him.  He realized he had been discouraging himself and that is why he felt so awful and wanted to quit. He got that encouragement fortifies courage and discouragement takes it away.   Encouragement had  quenched a thirst, giving him assurance and affirmation.  This in turn renewed his confidence allowing him to rise up and out of discouragement renewing his purpose and intent and stay the course.

There is a verse in the Holy Bible that says:  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another to good works.”  Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

So if you feel discouraged, I would encourage you to think of someone who has blessed you, supported you, helped you and write to them or call and let them know what they mean to you. The gift of encouragement that you give them may be just what they needed to quench their thirst and fill their vessel of courage.   And in turn you will also experience its wonderful thirst quenching properties.   Imagine how  relationships could  be transformed simply by words of encouragement.


Why Do we Fear Change?

images (2)

Why are people so afraid of change?  It is a natural occurrence in our lives yet when it is happening we often try and resist it. What kind of time and energy do we spend trying to avoid it when we never do stop CHANGE from happening?  I think of aging as a perfect example.  In our society we do everything we can to avoid the aging cycle. “Think facelifts.” We have seen how people become obsessed and we may even become obsessed in trying to avoid the natural progression of aging.   Michael Singer, author of “The Untethered Soul,” believes that this avoidance causes you to lose track of your life’s purpose.

I have to agree when I think of Phoenix Rising UCC.  It came into being because First Congregational Church, Haverhill stopped resisting the CHANGE going on around them.  When they stopped avoiding the inevitable, they found the new path CHANGE had created and rediscovered the purpose of being Church.

Today, I had an interview with Ben Leubsdorf an economics reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Washington, D.C.  Ben is working on a story about the process behind the decisions that some churches have made to create sacred space away from a traditional sanctuary building. How did the congregation reach those decisions – was it a financial issue or an outreach issue? What type of process was involved? These are the questions I addressed in the interview.

Phoenix Rising UCC was born out of the convergent changes in our world today.  American churches have been in the throes of two recessions:  A spiritual recession which seems to have begun in earnest in 2002 and the Great Recession which began sometime in 2007 when the Mortgage bubble burst.   Another major contributing factor has be the telecommunications boom which exploded onto the scene in 1995.    All of these factors have created a sea of CHANGE that has been unavoidable.

Individuals and institutions have tried to avoid these changes and have lost track of their vision and purpose.  My friend and colleague Reverend Ian Lynch preached at my Ordination on October 5th.  He started his sermon by saying, THE CHURCH IS DEAD” he went on to say if it isn’t dead it should be”  His whole point was that the Church is meant to bring Good News and the good news is, When death comes Resurrection follows.    Phoenix Rising is a story of death and resurrection.  It was born out of the chaos and convulsion of change.    The great worshiping oak is where the story of Phoenix Rising began with a few people who gathered under its branches in 1642 to worship. This great Oak has weathered much CHANGE in the city of Haverhill’s storied history. When you walk around the area one can’t help wondering how many of the oak trees that stand nearby are its offspring.  Each of these trees began as a fallen acorn.  Each had to die in order to release its DNA into the soil rising up and out, becoming the very thing it was intended to be.  It is the natural progress of life.

Michael Singer also says, “Life is a natural unfolding of reality. You’re supposed to harmonize and work with it.”  When we resist the very CHANGE our souls are begging for, we suffer disharmony and unrest, distress and fear. This becomes the lens by which we view our circumstances.    When you are feeling pulled towards that new thing do not resist! When you step over the threshold you will begin to experience the wonderful transformation CHANGE can bring.