By Maria Fontaine
November 9, 2019
For some time, I’ve been trying to encourage a dear friend of mine, who always feels inferior, that she does in fact have some wonderful gifts and talents. For one, I know from experience that she is an exceptional cook.
She finally admitted it and said that, yes, it was true. She is an outstanding cook, and many had told her that over the years. Getting one positive admission from her was a good start, and I felt I could go from there in helping her to see other things as well.
“Don’t sell yourself short in another great gift you have,” I recently told her in a letter. “You should know what I’m talking about, but maybe you don’t quite realize the value of this other gift that God has given you and that you have honed and practiced for years. It’s one that He has gifted me with as well and that I value very much. It’s the gift of encouragement. If there’s one thing that a lone individual can do that can make a major difference in other people’s lives, it’s to be an encouragement to them. Think about that.
“It may not be something that we can do continually, but using it as much as we can is very effective in helping others. In this world, if there’s one thing that people need, it’s encouragement. There are innumerable instances of people for whom even a few simple words, even from a stranger, have changed their lives and put them on a happier, more hopeful course.
“I’ve heard of instances where some seemingly small encouragement was offered and it saved a life! We won’t know until heaven how many people were rescued because of that, and how many more were put on a better track to live up to the potential that God had given them. The fact that even one person believed that they could make a difference with their life did wonders for them!
“Even if one person noticed them and that they were good at something, it triggered a desire inside them to try. Even if just one person mentioned an outstanding characteristic about them that they’d never personally noticed before, it started them on a journey of exploration and development to enhance and use that budding talent. Lives can be changed, just because someone saw some potential and took the time to put it into words.
“Dear friend, God has given you a very precious gift, and He rejoices when you use it to uplift others. It is a quality that you have developed over the years and used for His glory. This gift is an expression of your love—and His love shining through you. It inspires you to reach out to raise people up from their discouragement when they can’t see what’s good in their life. When you say those precious words that lift people up, you’re speaking God’s words to them. You are being His love for them. It draws them closer to Him. And what could be more important than that?
“People think that being a great and eloquent speaker before masses, being a gifted musician or painter, being a great scientist or inventor, being a great actor or singer are enviable gifts and talents, and yes, of course, these are valuable and good gifts if they’re used in the right way.
“However, from God’s perspective, the person who feels they can’t do much else, but at the Lord’s nudging encourages the one next to them, is doing one of the greatest things that can be done. When you take an elderly friend to a restaurant or to church, or you do something for one of the many others who you have helped over the years, you are exhibiting the gift of empathy that reflects the heart of God in a tangible way to those in need.
“When you put together those hymn compilations for someone who needs to be comforted or encouraged, you are feeding His sheep. When you go for your walks and give those you meet who are hungry or needy an offering of food and a little positive conversation, because you know they’re lonely, you are showing them Jesus’ care. When you stop and sacrifice your own time to give to others, it all comes from the beautiful gift of encouragement that the Lord has given you. It’s a gift that you have worked long and hard to develop and practice in your life. That is what brings God’s blessing on your own life and His ‘well done.’
“When you bake and decorate a cake and present it to someone who is lonely and feels that they’ve been forgotten, this is love—God’s love! It can go further than you could ever imagine. When you and your friend made a new signboard for the homeless man whose sign was so battered and worn that nobody could understand the words, that was love.
“And how do I know? This isn’t just my idea. Jesus’ own words in Matthew 25:35–40 proclaim the majesty of caring:
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.
“I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?
“‘Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”
“I know you’ve done all these things repeatedly for years. His words above apply to you. I don’t feel that I have many talents either, but I do know that God has showed me many times that my talent of encouragement is the one that is most important to nourish and develop. This is my job; this is my calling. Whether the encouragement is given verbally or in writing, to one or to many, to someone who doesn’t know Jesus or to our brothers and sisters in Him, this is part of bringing people closer to Jesus and helping them have more faith in His love.
“The Bible says, ‘Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you’ (1 Corinthians 1:26). It doesn’t take someone who is influential or educated to do the most important thing: to give love in the form of encouragement. You don’t have to be strong in the things of this world to give strength to the weak through your words of appreciation. You don’t have to be great in the eyes of others to lift the hands that hang down by motivating them to keep going nor to strengthen the feeble knees that are shaking because of fear. You don’t have to be brilliant to bring hope to the discouraged, nor to stir some weary soul to keep going.
“You have faithfully developed your talent of lifting others up, and it’s beautiful! It just shines!
“PS: I like this quote: ‘Encouragement is the emotional fuel that enables people to hold on longer, reach farther and dig deeper than they previously believed possible.’”
* * *
That reminds me of a story I heard one time about the power of seeing and acknowledging the potential in those we interact with.
Many classrooms have a couple of troublemakers who make life challenging for their teachers, but one class in particular seemed to be made up almost entirely of troublemakers. In just a few months’ time, they had gone through teacher after teacher, none of whom could break through what had become a culture of trying to see how quickly they could drive anyone who came to their classroom out the door in frustration.
Faculty regarded this class as delinquents, and virtually no one, including the students themselves, saw them as having any hope of turning out as anything but trouble in the future. That is, until one day they met their match in a way they never would have imagined.
This woman seemed like no one special. She was meek and mild, really pretty … ordinary. From the first day that she stepped in as their teacher, the class was betting among themselves as to how many days it would be until she ran out of the room in tears. Snickering behind their textbooks as they tried to think up ways to make her life a misery, they were certain that this “easy mark” wouldn’t make it more than a month, if that. Some thought they might drive her out in a week.
But in spite of their incessant attempts to give her a hard time, to their amazement, she was still hanging in there when the first month was over. No matter how much they tried her patience, played tricks on her, and whatever else they could think of to wear her down, she didn’t react in anger, but simply refused to tolerate anything that went beyond reasonable standards. She reacted calmly, coolly, and with a sense of sincere care for each individual. She seemed to see past their outward stunts and treated each student with an attitude of respect that was surprising, considering how little they deserved it.
One day she called each one to come up and get an envelope with their name on it. Undercurrents of apprehension rippled through the room as they returned to their seats, expecting some form of retribution. However, as each one opened their envelope, to their wonderment, they were faced with something that they had never encountered before. It was a report, but not a report on their bad behavior. Not a word of that. Instead, the teacher had studied them through the month and had seen the strengths and the potential for good in each one.
She had managed to discover positive qualities in each individual student. Maybe it was being punctual. Maybe it was being kind to their fellow students. Maybe it was showing leadership qualities or ingenuity or creativity, even if it might have been misguided at the moment. Whatever it was, big or small, she had seen it.
The class was stunned into silence. How could she have found so many good qualities in the midst of their efforts to show how bad they were? It made them uncomfortable, but at the same time, little glimmers of smiles crept across their faces.
The amazing thing about it was that it was not a one-time thing! When the end of the next month came along, there it was again, and with more good qualities added to the “report.” Some of them had decided that this woman wasn’t so bad after all. They were beginning to like that she saw things in them that even they hadn’t seen. Some were getting motivated to try to see what they would receive on next month’s report if they tried a little harder.
Month after month, the teacher wrote encouraging and appreciative notes. Maybe the student had tried harder in some area or had misbehaved less often, but there was always something that pushed them gently toward the idea that they weren’t irreversibly destined to the inevitability of being a person everyone looked down on. As she kept looking for more to appreciate them for, they kept trying to provide her with more. It took time, but little by little she was inspiring them to see potential in themselves that they hadn’t expected to see.
The students began to make the effort to push themselves because they began to realize that maybe they could break out of the downward spiral that had become their expected lives. They started wanting to learn, even if just to disprove those who had displayed an immense doubt in their abilities.
Instead of someone to be beaten down and pushed away, this teacher gradually became an anchor in their lives and someone they came to for encouragement when things were difficult. Their minds were finally focused on the good and the positive and trying to figure out what they could do better tomorrow than they had done today.
Other faculty members were so shocked at the transformation that she was asked to stick with this group of students for the rest of their high school years. Some of them went on to college and others pursued their dreams in other ways, but all loved this teacher who had changed their lives, changed their minds, changed their perceptions of themselves, and saved them from the self-destructive spirals that their lives were descending into.
All it took was a little extra time, effort, and care to see the good and potential, and acknowledge it. This is just one example of innumerable cases of what kindness, consideration, respect, and encouragement have done to change lives and situations.