There’s a whole lot of negative in the world. Just stand in a line at Disneyland—the Happiest Place On Earth—to get a peek at that. Or drive in traffic. Or visit the DMV.
According to Drs. John and Julie Gottman, for every one encouraging comment we hear, there are six critical comments conveyed to us. The bad news is that’s true for the people we love, too. Which means that statistically, we’re all part of the grumpy black cloud over humanity.
How do we change that ratio, and have happier, more encouraging relationships?
Pitfall #1: Giving advice.
We fall in to the first pit when we encourage those we love by telling them how to live.
Friends, we’re too busy being messes—and dealing with our own messes—to fix other people’s. Which is probably why Jesus addressed this pitfall in his most famous sermon ever, where he said, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?” (Luke 6:42).
What to do instead: listen deeper.
Listen to what they say, and what they don’t say. Reflect back to them what you’re hearing and seeing in them. Point out discrepancies between what they say and who you know them to be. But on the whole, use the two-ears-one-mouth principle: listen twice as much as you talk.
Pitfall #2: Promising rainbows and unicorns.
Nothing discourages more than, “Don’t worry. It will be ok.” Because we can’t guarantee things will be ok. Not in this lifetime anyway.
Saying it will be ok puts pressure on the struggling one to struggle harder, to try harder, to take ownership for situations that often are outside their control. We live in a fallen world, friends. We can’t guarantee that life will turn out ok. In fact, the only thing we CAN guarantee is what Jesus said: “In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
What to do instead: be vulnerable.
Even though our culture values people seeming put-together, relationships have always valued honesty more. The first time I spoke to a group, it was to share my testimony at MOPS. The team asked me to talk about life parenting two children out of foster care.
As I spoke, tears choked back most of the time, I shared how lost I was feeling—how engaging my daughters’ brokenness shattered me, too—and how I was struggling to find my faith bearings.
I thought it was the lamest, least encouraging talk ever. But the tears in their eyes told me something else.
These other moms were truly encouraged by the broken place I’d been, because broken is where we find ourselves much of the time.
Some of the women there that day were broken and weary, too. Parenting kids with autism, raising twins while their spouse was deployed across the world. One even came up and cried with me afterward because her daughter didn’t make it home from the NICU, and her arms and heart ached for her baby.
There’s no “it will be ok” for those hurts. They knew it, and I knew it. But more importantly, God knows it. And he is “close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18).
Next time someone we love needs encouragement, let’s give it like he does: let’s be close to them. Listen. Be vulnerable about our own journey.
Let’s be people who even the score and blow away a little of that negative cloud from our experience in this world!