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What Does it Mean to Encourage Someone? by Steve Wickham

Articles, Current Issue

To encourage, we literally put courage IN another person. Encouragement puts strength IN to other people. It is the ultimate act of kindness. It sees the person and validates them by words and deeds.

To encourage is to acknowledge, appreciate, recognize, and value a person.

Breaking down the word “encourage,” we find that the prefix EN comes from other languages because commonly the prefix EN means “in” within other languages. To “en-courage” literally means to put courage in.

When we have been encouraged, we have received courage from others, particularly in the form of HOPE that they instill in us for moving forward in the day, hour, or even minute ahead.

Sometimes life is like that, isn’t it? We need the hope of encouragement. We are easily overwhelmed.

And then when life blindsides us through loss and grief that comes like a thief in the night, we are backwashed into a corner of emotional and spiritual overwhelm. Usually, for a time, a season, as a new normal is ushered forth against our will.

There are many times in life when we need a person to put courage into us through encouragement. Hope is the fuel of life and joy and peace. Hope becomes tangible through encouragement; through putting courage in.

Think of it this way. Think back to a time when you were betwixt and between. You resembled the epitome of liminal space. You were beside yourself. You struggled to make sense of your reality. In this place, you were invited into your truth, but perhaps your truth was too stark. Your reality was too raw for you to handle.

There are realities in life that ARE too hard, and yet, when those realities linger, and we cannot escape them, month after month, we can gradually learn to face the all-too-real reality our life has become.

This is because we are in a grief process, and grief isn’t linear.

We don’t go through the five or seven stages of grief, one after another, but we go through the stages spasmodically, as if the stages occur chaotically, intermingled in the grief experience, even on a daily basis. It isn’t uncommon to experience two, three, or four phases of grief in one day or week.

I’ve had days in deep grief where I started out in the land of acceptance, only to finish the day in the panicking fear of denial, bargaining, anger, and depression.

One of the hardest realities in grief is being in a state of acceptance, knowing that the sadder stages will inevitably return. The acceptance stage doesn’t last until we inevitably arrive there months or even years later when the emotions are no longer hijacked on a whim.

At times like these, those who are withstanding intense periods of loss and grief will often find themselves bereft of the resources to continue on, and what they need is courage to be put back into them. In essence, they need encouragement.

Suffering teaches us our need of encouragement. Those who are suffering do not need advice, they need encouragement, and the best way of encouraging a person is opening space to listen to them, and to validate their experience.

We commonly think encouragement requires words; NO. Encouragement requires ears. Encouragement requires presence.

Only the person who has suffered, and who has received the encouragement of another—encouragement as stated immediately above—has even the slightest comprehension of how to heal in a way that they will be a helper to another once they have been healed.

To be encouraged, is the gift received from another, who has put courage into us.

Steve Wickham holds several roles, including husband, father, conflict coach and mediator, church pastor, counselor,, chaplain, mentor, and Board Secretary. He holds degrees in Science, Divinity (2), and Counselling. 

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