Some of the most encouraging moments in my life have been completely absent of advice.
The most discouraging moments however, have been rife with advice and platitudes. It’s happened often, when I’ve shared something heavy or sad or stressful that’s been weighing me so low I felt like my arms are dragging on the floor behind me, and the friend, upon hearing my misery, reached into their sack of sayings and dug out whatever they thought would fix me.
For example, in response to my confessing a rising sense of panic in a fearful situation, a friend might say,
“Yeah, everyone’s having a tough time right now.”
“I know what you mean. The other day I was washing the car when…..”
Or, what is infinitely worse,
“Well, Jesus said ‘do not fear’ so there’s no need to feel fear.”
None of these demonstrate excellent listening; they do, however invalidate the person’s feelings and demonstrate that the ‘listener’ has more important things to say than the speaker. Gee, thanks.
I get it. I’ve accidentally discouraged my friends, too.
We mean well.
We really do.
We want to help. Encourage. Inspire and uplift those we care about.
But we don’t know how, so we guess. We grab at what we think should be encouraging, fling it at the problem, and hope it helps.
The thing is, discouraged people aren’t broken, and encouragement isn’t about fixing problems anyway.
Actually, encouragement is not about accomplishing or DOING anything.
Encouragement is about meeting someone where they are, and BEING with them in it.
And it’s much more difficult than it sounds.