Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Giving The Gift Of Encouragement

December 7, 1998

The task is formidable. How well you perform will make a difference. You've prepared in the best way you know how. There is one more thing that will help you take heart. Encouragement! Someone that cares. Someone that wishes you well.

Encouragement is a precious gift. We get energy from simple, well-timed words of inspiration and confidence. We receive fresh courage from expressions of support and concern.

One of the tasks of parenthood is to offer encouragement to developing teens and children. Growth is hard. Doing new things is hard. Parents give unconditional love. At the same time they understand that their child needs to take risks, extend themselves and try hard things. Trying counts. We grow from mistakes and experience. Skills can then improve.

Skills and talents have a beginning. It takes dedication, persistence and encouragement to dare the uncertainty and discomfort of those early moments. As parents, we know our children’s capabilities. We try to anticipate those times when a well placed word of encouragement will communicate our love and interest.

Encouragement isn't just for kids. It is a vital component of adult relationships. It is an expression of intimate caring about the well-being and growth of our friends or partner.

We all have a need to be loved unconditionally, just as we are, with no strings attached. We need to feel secure, to belong, to relax in someone else's strength, to abandon ourselves, to put our very beings into someone else's gentle care. From time to time, we need someone to minister to us, to take away our loneliness and comfort our pain.

We need to experience our uniqueness and individuality. Even in the most intimate relationships, our uniqueness is needs to be valued, admired and appreciated. We need encouragement to pursue our own vision and destiny. We share our dreams and goals, our fears and weaknesses, our doubts and confusion, knowing that a faithful heart will lift us up and set us back on our mission.

An act of encouragement bridges both needs. It requires intimate knowledge of both our strengths and virtues, our fears and weaknesses. When we expose our special needs and fears and still find ourselves loved and valued, we are deeply encouraged. "I have been seen as I am and there is still hope. Someone I trust believes in me."

Encouragement means recognizing the little things that are done. It means listening well, striving for understanding and giving well-deserved appreciation.

Too many people feel discouraged and unappreciated. All it takes is a kind word or a gesture to reassure them that they are up to the task in front of them.

In the context of loving motivation and mutual commitment, truth can be spoken, concern is expressed, interest is conveyed, fear is reduced, and hope is given. Even criticism can be given in the context of hopeful encouragement. It is looking forward, not backward.

"Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Encouragement is as the sun after a shower." - Goethe

A friend who encourages another engages in a selfless act. Giving encouragement means focusing on someone else's goals for their own sake. In a close relationship, it is a high point in life to have a friend or partner give undivided attention and concern to your happiness instead of their own worries. Sometimes it is even more than encouragement, it is sacrifice. Private matters are set aside to concentrate on helping someone else succeed.

When you want or need encouragement the most, a truly good friend is there. When it happens, encouragement fills a deep human need and is a gift from a loving heart.

By being aware of how important encouragement is to a relationship, couples can consciously look for opportunities to be supportive and kind. Emotional gas tanks are being filled again. The other's needs take on a loving priority. Good things start happening.

How do married couples encourage each other?

- By sharing a commitment towards their loved one's goal.

- By looking for something positive yet realistic in their partner's experience.

- By taking note of the effort and the improvement being made.

- By respecting the fact that both the goals and effort is not their responsibility and resisting the urge to take over.

- By not comparing their performance to others.

- By having faith in their ability to accomplish the tasks he or she has undertaken.

- By words and actions that hearten, enliven, spur on, give help, give confidence, and inspire.

- By showing interest and being enthusiastic about the triumphs and by expressing concern about the setbacks and the strain.

By consciously looking for opportunities to give encouragement, couples and good friends strengthen their bonds of love. It is one gift of many we bring to an intimate relationship.