Monday, August 11, 2008

Encouragement and Gratitude

So we all probably read a lot about encouragement. We are told to say a kind word, or jut give a smile, to anyone when they seem to need it. Or even if they don't. This is a philosophy I adopted many years ago, after my first coaching experience when my son was in first grade. (He recently celebrated the big 21.) After the final game of the season, parents and kids came up with really sincere thanks. I felt awash in gratitude in a way I had never experienced. Now I would call it the Holy Spirit. Then I was just very happy. From that point on, I have tried to express gratitude whenever possible, especially at larger type events (eg: church dinner) when I always seek out whoever was in charge and leave them with a kindness. This has often shown amazing results.

There are other ways to give encouragement besides gratitude. Mostly people just want to be noticed. An easy way to encourage is to simply not criticize, especially when you know the person is aware of their issues. Stopping to help someone, even for a moment, can be huge; it means that you noticed them, and also that their efforts are important enough to join. These are very important messages.

So, we can all agree that giving encouragement is a Good Thing. What about when we need it ourselves? Is that a weakness? I don't think so. Given my approach to gratitude, I sometimes have a difficult time when others do not reciprocate. Does that make me selfish? I don't know, I think it just makes me human. In the volunteer world of Christ-centered giving, it would seem to be a fundamental part of everyone's approach.

But it isn't.

Why is that? I don't think that people are taking me for granted, but that is an easy assumption to make when you get little other feedback. I don't think people are unkind, when I see all the other wonderful things they do. So what is it?

Encouragement involves two sides: one person gives, and the other person gets. Without both functioning properly, the encouragement cannot happen. Are there people who are simply difficult to encourage? Absolutely! How well we accept encouragement will greatly affect how much we get. I have found that the best response to "Thank You" is simply "You're welcome." Wow, it turns out my mother was right all along! But those we try to encourage often make it more difficult. Have you ever heard (or said) any of these:

  • "It was nothing."
  • "I had to be here anyway."
  • "I had nothing else to do tonight."
These send the message that my thanks was unnecessary because the help they gave me was unimportant, or in some other way not worthy of gratitude. How about these:
  • "I was glad to help."
  • "Thank you for noticing."
  • "You're welcome." (As I said, my personal favorite.)
  • "You would do the same for me." (A great way to accept it, and turn some right back too!)
I think you get the idea. Don't let giving encouragement become a chore for the giver. Be glad for them, since they took the time to say something nice.

I will close with something I learned from an old Boy Scout mentor. He said this: "The best thing you can do when someone offers you a kindness is to accept it."


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