Chances are, you know someone who is going through a difficult time right now¾job loss, divorce, cancer, miscarriage, or another hardship. If you know a person with a problem, you know a person who could use some encouragement. However, sometimes those most in need of encouragement won’t ask for it. Good encouragers, therefore, learn to sense the needs of others and take the initiative.
Here are three ways you can be the most encouraging person in someone else’s life today:
Words have tremendous power. They can either lift others up or drag them down. As Solomon wrote in the ancient Hebrew wisdom book of Proverbs, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). Good encouragers use words to accentuate the positive in others’ lives. They express appreciation to those behind the scenes, saying “Tammy, all your hard work has really made a difference. Thanks for everything you did.” Saying something positive about a person’s abilities, faith, past successes, or good judgment can light a beacon of hope in a hard time (“You have so much to offer. It’s just a matter of time until you find the right job!”) Your words can infuse your friends with the courage to keep powering on.
During a crisis, words can be a life preserver to someone in murky waters. Your kind words may be mentally replayed again and again in the months and years ahead. Too many words or a preachy tone, however, can increase another’s burden, which is the opposite of what you want. Simply offering a few heartfelt words and a listening ear often provides the best encouragement.
Words don’t have to be spoken to encourage. Because thoughtfully written words can express exactly what is in your heart, a handwritten note or email is sometimes the best way to deliver your message of encouragement. The written word is also more enduring than the spoken word. A note of thanks or appreciation can be reread months or years later.
Most everyone you know could use a little encouragement. Caregivers or older people who are hearing impaired may feel alone and discouraged. Teachers and first responders may need to hear someone (maybe you?) say they make a difference. Most of all, your family needs your encouragement. A note tucked into a lunch bag or backpack can deliver personalized encouragement that helps soothe math test anxieties or pre-presentation jitters.
Encouraging words are hollow if they ignore an obvious physical or tangible need. While everyone can give verbal encouragement, providing tangible encouragement may require you to open your wallet or give of your time. Of course, not everyone has resources to share. But if you have extra time or money, you have a wonderful opportunity. For example, your elderly neighbor may need someone to shovel his sidewalk after a snow storm. That single mom on your block who was laid off from her job? She may need grocery money or childcare while she looks for new employment.
Even when it inconveniences you, providing tangible encouragement can be fun. You can reach out anonymously, just for the pure joy of helping someone. For example, leave an anonymous gift card on your coworker’s desk or an anonymous bag of groceries at your neighbor’s door.
Meeting practical needs presents a rich opportunity for teaching children about generosity and making faith practical. Your family could create an “encouragement fund” for reaching out to others. Each month, family members can take turns deciding how to use the money. The amount doesn’t have to be large. Maybe just enough to mail a “We’re thinking about you” card to a recent widow, or treating someone to lunch, maybe a teenager whose parents are divorcing.
Emotional encouragement is an “I’m with you in this” attitude that communicates support to another person. One way to express emotional encouragement is to listen sincerely and intently. This honors the person and shows them you value what they say. Those who are grieving, however, may not want to talk. Their greatest need may be to have you simply sit with them in silence.
Eye contact is also important. Eye contact is how human beings communicate safety and trust to one another. Positive eye contact tells another person that you are genuinely interested in them, and you can underscore your listening with a warm smile. A gentle touch on the arm, hand, or shoulder also communicates sincere concern by breaking into another’s sense of isolation in their trouble.
As you set out to intentionally encourage a friend, family member, coworker, or even a total stranger, watch their response to your words, tangible help, or emotional encouragement. More often than not, that person won’t be the only one who is encouraged!