Because Encouragement is a Choice

Because Encouragement is a Choice

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

As a child he was called Fat Freddy.

The other kids bullied and viciously mocked him. He carried this pain inside, hidden to many who knew him. To combat the loneliness he often felt, Freddy used stuffed animals and puppets to create whole new worlds in his bedroom. Places of safety and acceptance. And he determined that ‘victim’ would not define his life. He would be sensitive to the pain of others – seek to build them up rather than crush them down.

When a young Fred finished seminary in the early 1960’s he felt a strong calling to encourage children and was the first person ordained as an “evangelist to children through television.” He went on to host “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” which aired for forty years to both great acclaim and occasional criticism.

But when public television was in danger of being abolished in the late 1960’s, Mr. Rogers’ testimony before Congress helped to keep the Public Broadcasting System going.  I can’t even imagine today without PBS!

Fred Rogers was a pioneer in emphasizing that the feelings of young children were as important as those of adults. He championed human dignity for all and the value of unconditional love. He was a musician and, in the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” he sits at his piano, describing his work as “helping children through the difficult modulations of life.” How important. Our lives modulate up and down constantly. And if we adults have a hard time coping, how much more difficult for children?

How do we encourage others? Listen to them and affirm their worth. Speak into their lives with words of affirmation and empowerment. To some this may seem a small kind of work. For a long time, even I wondered how important my “Encouraging Words” ministry was in the whole scheme of things. My books and lectures didn’t actually appear to be setting prisoners free or changing unjust laws. 

Until I realized that all teaching based on God’s Word has the power and potential for true transformation and it is a good and holy thing to be part of the tapestry that helps a person embrace God’s plan for their life. At the root of this word is coeur which is translated heart. To encourage is choosing to give heart to someone else.

Fred Rogers believed that “the greatest thing that we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving… As human beings our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has – or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time… To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now – and to go on caring even through times that may bring us pain.” (Relevant Magazine, March 2015)  

Words can build us up or tear us down. I’ve been the recipient of words that heal and words that crush. Sadly, I’ve also been the one speaking both kinds of words.

But through my remorseful tears, I determined that the next time I found myself frustrated and critical about someone’s behavior, I would ask God to show me the “story behind the story.” To give me words to touch that hidden painful part of them, and not just the obnoxious part that was acting out. Of course, I always utter a prayer because it takes spiritual insight to recognize the defense mechanisms people so often put up for survival. And yet, in the very act of seeing a person’s struggle, we are in a perfect position to encourage them beyond it.

Do you find it easier to encourage or to criticize? While it is true that various personalities are often either more optimistic or pessimistic, we do not have to be ruled by our wiring or our mood. We can freely choose the words we use on other people. And if encouragement isn’t our default, we can choose to change.

Some people say that Mr. Rogers went overboard by convincing a whole generation of children that they were “special.” And yes, there probably is a fine line between growing up feeling special and growing up feeling entitled. But I believe the deciding factor lies in the intent. By encouraging others to be all that God created them to be, we can be used to help draw out the gifts and potential that have possibly been overlooked or even squelched.

“When Mr. Rogers called you special, it didn’t feel like entitlement or mindless praise. It felt more like a responsibility—like he was reminding you to live up to something. And even when you didn’t live up to it, he was still there with those simple words that, even now, carry an awful lot of emotional heft: “I like you just the way you are.” (Relevant Magazine, March 2015)   

Recently, at the closing of a retreat session after strongly urging women to embrace the incomparable power of God’s love, I decided to close by singing over the women a little song Mr. Rogers often sang, as he turned to the television camera and looked directly into the eyes of the viewer: “It’s you I like. Every part of you, your skin, your eyes, your feelings whether old or new. I hope that you remember even when you’re feeling blue that it’s you, I like, it’s you yourself, it’s you I like.” (“It’s You I Like” 1970)

By the time I finished and closed in prayer, the whole atmosphere of the room had changed as women began to weep and allow themselves to actually feel the embrace of a heavenly Father’s love.

When such a message of acceptance and unconditional love pours into us, we are transformed. Strength and serenity fill us and the resulting overflow enables us to reach out to a fractured, hurting world with hope and grace.

Who will you choose to encourage today?

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5.11

under the mercy, Lucinda

copyright 2019 excerpted fromLife-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell Order Today!

More about “Life-Giving Choices” HERE!


  1. Lavonne Wright on November 6, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for this word this morning. I really needed this. I was just crying and talking to the Lord and this email popped up it is such a great encouragement . God bless you and your family.

    • Lavonne Wright on November 6, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      Ok. Thank you.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 12:18 pm

      Thank you for reading and letting me know that our loving God orchestrated such that we could mutually encourage each other this morning! You are not alone!

      • Christine Trautman on November 6, 2019 at 3:41 pm

        Oh, Cindy …thank you very much for your encouraging words today.I so resonate with your post…especially the part about as we live into our unique belovedness in God, we are capable of loving others with strength and serenity in a fractured world that needs hope and grace. So many aspects of Jeff’s and my life right now need hope and grace. May you be encouraged to keep true to your calling of “encouraging others in Christ’s name” matters now and always. Love to you and Mike.

        • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 3:47 pm

          Oh Chris, so very good to hear from you today and glad that God used my words this morning. Yes, we are all in a most unusual season that calls for more of Him and less of us… sending hugs across the years and miles, dear friend. love Cindy (and Mike too)

  2. Marilyn Bullock on November 6, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks Cindy. I thank God for your new book. Arrived Tuesday and copies to give to friends and this story of Mister Rogers is wonderful. Praying for it to encourage many. Have a blest day.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks so much dear friend Marilyn. And that you would gift the book touches my heart deeply. Blessings!

      • Mary Ward on November 6, 2019 at 1:46 pm

        So thankful for your writing! You bless so many including me! 😊

        • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 1:51 pm

          Thanks Mary! Can’t wait to see you …. soon

  3. Pauline Morgan on November 6, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you Lucinda! Encouraging other is becoming a lost art. We are so busy that our default mode is “me”….what I need, want and crave. Its not that we don’t ever think about what others need, want or crave but we are usually to tired or busy to pick up a phone, ring a doorbell or even text/email. Written by someone who 45 minutes ago was too busy to respond encouragingly to a text and took the easy way out. Thank you for your ministry to encourage!!!! May many words and actions encourage you today.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 12:59 pm

      Yes Pauline. We are all guilty of defaulting into “me” but today I pray to choose encouragement! Thanks for reading and writing me back!

  4. barbara on November 6, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    “…know that they’re loved and capable of loving…” and you, blessed friend, are sooo brilliant at that, at making each and every someone who crosses your path feel loved and capable of loving. in seeing you so effortlessly exude so much, in seeing it flow from a deep well inside you, you make us want to act in kind, to be as effusive in our loving, to tenderly coax the quiet and sometimes hidden beauties from those whose paths we cross (even from inside our own selves). you live the way to be: to broadcast God’s truth that we are all loved and capable of incredible loving….

    bless you. and thank you.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Oh dearest friend, Barbara, you honor me too deeply. We all have room to grow and embrace a wider circle. Thank you for reading and posting. Btw, HOW do I subscribe to “Pull Up a chair?” Could not find a place to put my email… love you.

  5. Barbara on November 6, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks Cindy. This IS an encouragement. I can be too quick to speak and too slow to listen.

    Thanks again for a WONDERFUL evening here in the country. People were not only touched but moved by your remarks. YOU ARE AN ENCOURAGEMENT!!

    May God bless you as you seek to minister in His name,

    WIth love and admiration,

    Barbara for team Schoenly

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      Oh Barbara, I treasure times in the country at Mountain Meadows and with your community. You encourage me and have done so for 40+ years so I’m very grateful. I promise a thank you note will come soon. Just had some of your and Newt’s raspberry jam – jar is half empty and it’s only been two weeks… love you.

  6. Cathy Gohlke on November 6, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    You are always so encouraging, Cindy, and a blessing beyond words. Never doubt the impact you are making for our Lord in the hearts of readers.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 1:48 pm

      Thank you Cathy for being my friend and encourager also! Your words go forth into the world with great power because of your heart to write about hard things. Love you.

  7. Sheree Harrington on November 6, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you, Cindy for this gift that you’ve given. As a woman of color, I know what it’s like to be shamed and rejected. Additionally as a woman pastor, sadly the church community can be just as cruel. Thanks be to God that He loves diversity and it is reflected in all of creation. I am “fearfully and wonderfully “ made.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 2:20 pm

      Of course you know, Sheree, but you have done the same as Mister Rogers in reaching out to other hurting people. Blessings friend!

  8. DiAnn Mills on November 6, 2019 at 2:46 pm

    I was the fat-girl growing up, and I understand the need for encouragemnt: God’s encouragement. Thanks for a great reminder of God’s love and faithfulness.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      Oh DiAnn, so was I! (and I still struggle…) I’m honored you read my blog – you are a hero to me. love Cindy

  9. Sandi Banks on November 6, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Morning, Lucinda! I just opened your message as I was sipping my hot tea from my Mr. Rogers cup–the one where hot beverages change his brown jacket into his blue cardigan, 🙂 and is covered with favorite quotes from this remarkable man. What a difference his encouraging words has made on countless children over the years, myself included. In fact, you can check out my yesterday’s FB post that has a picture of my Mr. Rogers cup, and words about this “neighbor’s” encouragement. So he’s been inspiring me once again, now you have too. Thank you, dear friend, for sharing his story and for being an encourager who encouraging others to be one too. May your today, and every day, be filled with the blessing of encouraging words and memorable moments. <3 SB

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 3:30 pm

      Oh wow Sandi, I love this! Where can I order that mug? Also I loved the “fledge” article you gave me this summer at Speak Up but I never told you. Hugs sweet friend and will go look up your fb post – for some reason I didn’t see it yesterday…

      • Sandi Banks on November 6, 2019 at 5:08 pm

        Thanks, Cindy–and yes, you need a mug. (Check your PM on FB, <3 SB) 🙂

        • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 5:12 pm

          What???? Fred and his mug are on their way to Sunnyside Cottage? I hope you aren’t sending me yours… Sandi, you are just the most generous gracious friend…. Wow.

  10. Laura Taggart on November 6, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    What a sweet yet profound post, Cindy. We are all in such need to be encouraged. I loved the Relevant magazine quote. So true. Hope you are well!!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on November 6, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks for reading, Laura. I miss you and wish we could see each other soon. Blessings!

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