How far will an encouraging word take you? I’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of encouragers cross my path and their influence, with often a quiet word, has been tremendous. We underestimate the power of our words, or our silence, far too often. As I write this I am convicted of my own guilt.
We withhold what we should sing about and we won’t shut up about things that don’t really matter. We are fickle things by times. Yes?
I had a high school job placement as an Outdoor Education Instructor. They had just installed a high ropes course in the trees. I’m about 10 meters in the air clinging to a tree trunk. I’ve got my climbing gear and safety ropes. I’m OK.
“Keep going,” Brian says from the forest floor.
I look down. I don’t mind heights. I’ve been climbing since before I could walk, but suddenly I realize he’s a really long way down. I’m supposed to let go and wrap a leg around tree to keep me steady because I need both hands to set up the pulley and climbing rope on the top wire.
hehehe – not really. I got quite good at it, but that first cloudy day looking down I wasn’t so confident. I had been up in the trees numerous times alongside Brian. I had even done the job before under his direct supervision. Now he was way down there and I was on my own. How would it look if I messed up and got stranded upside down 10 meters in the air? I wasn’t afraid of falling, I knew the equipment and backup safety measures, but I didn’t want to let him down.
I hesitate. “Do you think I can do it?”
“Yes.” He nods. He was a man of few words but always quick to praise.
A thrill went through me knowing he was confident of my skills and abilities. I trusted Brian more than my own feelings at that moment. I got the job done and we continued on like it was a normal day. I performed the same job dozens of times without wavering. All because of a quietly spoken encouraging word.
Writing is a tricky profession. You sit all alone for days and weeks and put your own thoughts on paper with the intent of putting those thoughts on display for the world to comment on. Your hope is that, at least my hope, is that as the writer my words stand in my place. I would rather people notice my words instead of me.
So you bleed on the page, you pour your thoughts and heart into a piece, and wait. I get a private Facebook message from a reader (this is a direct quote – the internet is forever): “There is a harshness and slight arrogance present in your writing which I find confusing. Are you a Christian?”
I always appreciate when readers challenge me in public spaces because I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my point of view, but hit-and-run private messages leave bruises. Don’t feed the trolls, right? But doubt crept in. What if this person is right? Was I being arrogant or harsh? I hadn’t thought so. My editor didn’t mention it. No one else picked up on it.
Why do the Debbie Downers comments always stay with you?
Support From Left Field
I do some writing for my church and took some pretty harsh criticism on a story that actually never got published for a variety of reasons. I was left pretty discouraged. Took a hard punch, so to speak. Then my pastor (who served as the final editor for that particular piece) sent a quiet word of encouragement. He believed in me. He often encourages me with a single line in an email that I always find unexpected but afterwards I feel buoyant.
I don’t get men (apart from my husband) stand up for me like that very often. I must have reread that email a dozen times soaking in the humility and comfort offered in a few short lines.
As a writer, I should be more aware than others of the power of words to help and to hurt. Sometimes even I forget, or my emotions get the better of me. But whenever possible, freely give away an encouraging word. You never know where it may take someone!
Have you had a similar experience where a small word of encouragement helped you in a large way? Tell me about it in the comments.