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 from “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell Order Today!