Disappointment and loss are part of life. We’ve all been there. And we’ve all experienced when it’s happened to someone we love.
While we ultimately each must choose how we’ll respond to those setbacks and losses, encouragement is a powerful gift when we’re struggling.
Much of what I know about this comes from raising my own daughter. From the time I got her as a foster child, she’s wrestled with depression. As her mom, my number one job each day is to encourage her to keep choosing life, even as I help her grow and mature in other areas.
Walking with her in the struggle is showing me how to give it in ways that strengthen instead of enabling. To help others along THEIR journey, instead of making me feel better around their struggle. Here are some ways to do that well:
We often speak half truths, or carefully avoid the truth when encouraging others, because of our own fear of freaking them out or bringing them down even more than they are. But the thing is, they know the truth already. Saying, “This is really hard,” acknowledges the truth and validates the other person’s feelings and experiences. It provides support that comes in knowing that someone else “gets” what they are facing – really gets it – the good, the bad and the ugly.
When someone is grieving a loss or is facing something devastating or overwhelming to them, pretty much anything we can say is trite compared to their level of pain. So before you say anything to a hurting friend, consider why you want to say it. Is it because it’s uncomfortable to be around their struggle? Or because you want to rescue them from the things they must learn on their own time schedule in this situation? If it’s at all about you, zip it.
Do this both physically, and emotionally. Just being present with the hurting is encouragement because it reminds them that as bad as things are, they are not altogether destitute. They still have someone who values them enough to simply be there and be a friend. Sit and fold laundry with them. Watch a movie with them. Sit next to each other and read a book in the sunshine. Your presence tells them they matter to you. That’s a massive encouragement.
Do they enjoy gifts? Bring flowers or their favorite coffee. Do they like it when you do something for them? Bring them a meal or help them clean their house. Whatever you do, encourage in their preferred way of receiving love. The more personalized your encouragement, the more powerful it is to your friend, and that’s what we want when we’re encouraging someone, right? To bless them as much as we possibly can in that moment.
Gossip to God
A.k.a. pray for and about them. This serves two purposes: it puts their issue in the hands of One who can actually change and heal in that situation, and the meditative aspect of prayer will change how YOU see the situation and your friend. Taking the time to sit and reflect, maybe even while reading Scripture or listening to music that helps you think, will unlock ideas for unique and meaningful ways you can encourage your friend.
Bring Fun to Them
When we’re discouraged, it’s hard to engage life-giving experiences and situations. So bring it to them. Bring a board game when you visit, or a vase of flowers. Bring some fresh baked cookies or bread – the aroma alone will fill a house with life! Your presence, your effort, your thoughtfulness and your time will encourage more than a thousand well-picked words of encouragement could ever hope to. And the vitality you bring will encourage those who are struggling to keep pressing in to courage and hope.
What’s something you’ve found helpful to encourage others?