Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

26 July 2013

Encouragement, five love languages and comfort in

So I have a little theory.  It has to do with encouragement.  But what is encouragement?  Thoughts may leap immediately to comments about nice dresses and haircuts.  And if someone I know is about to step into an important job interview, then a comment about the nice dress and haircut may be just the thing needed to give that extra burst of confidence before facing the panel. 

But there is so much more to it than that.  Take a look at these words which begin with "en-"...

And now go back to the word encourage.  It means to give someone courage to press on.  It's not just about saying nice things.
My Theory - Part A
Encouragement can happen in a couple of ways - horizontally and vertically.  The horizontal aspect is when we work on our relationships here on the ground, as it were, doing and saying helpful things to give one another the courage to press on.
Vertically speaking, a Christian is encouraged when you point them back to Jesus.  When you remind them of their relationship with God and remind them of all the promises of God for them.  That is truly strengthening.
My Theory - Part B
So how do I truly encourage someone?  Well, this blog is mostly about vertical encouragement but just for now I'm considering the horizontal.  And this is where I think that handy little book about the five love languages by Gary Chapman, the one that started life as a marriage book but later broadened out, enters stage left.  The idea is that we each have a dominant love language.  The five ways we might show and receive love are:

Words of affirmation
Acts of service
Receiving gifts
Quality time
Physical touch
My theory (Part B) is that is that the five love languages can also help with encouragement. 

How can I encourage someone in a way that truly gets home?  Easy.  Encourage in their language.   How do you encourage me to press on in my role as a Sunday School teacher?  Well, I am not a gifts person.  At all.  So, while I like flowers and am happy to buy a bunch of daisies for myself when I think I need some on the kitchen table, if you give me a bunch of flowers to encourage me in my endeavours it won't really get right down deep.  But if you come to church a bit earlier than usual and drag those trestle tables from one side of the hall all the way over to the other side and set them up for!  I could last a week on that.  You see, I am an acts of service girl. 
Now, there is more to it than the five love languages.  For example, if I want to encourage a fellow blogger (and there is a more than fair chance that I don't know their dominant love language) I will leave a comment on their post.  Or if greater encouragement is needed and I know their address, I will write a letter or at least send an email.  Bloggers are word people - and they are encouraged by words. Like gifts, words of affirmation is not my love language.  But it is no secret to those who read this blog that I love letters.  So a letter will hit the spot.
The art of real encouragement that will truly reach its source is to know the one you seek to encourage and then to encourage them in a way that they will hear it.  The five love languages provides at least a solid start to getting it right.
Which brings me to...
My Theory - Part C
Remember Comfort in, Dump out?  I gave all sorts of dumping examples but was pretty quiet on the comfort bit.  But I think encouragement - seeking to give someone the courage to press on - is the umbrella for all sorts of things like helping someone to press on with a task, helping to push someone across some sort of finishing line, commending someone for a job well done (which may just encourage them to keep serving in that and new ways), paying someone that compliment or saying, "Well done," and it's also providing comfort to someone in the centre of the illness, bereavement or distress ring.
But encouragement is such an upbeat term.  Comfort then is its quieter, gentler cousin.  If I encourage someone in the midst of despair or serious illness it doesn't mean joyously getting them on their feet and marching them victoriously out into life again.  Comfort is the encouragement (vertical or horizontal) that gives the person in crisis the courage to press on, maybe just for the day.  Or for the hour.  Or even just for the next minute. 
And the best comfort is targeted comfort.  Know who you are comforting.   If I feel uncomfortable about receiving gifts when I am well, then I will still feel uncomfortable about it when I am sick or bereft.  If I don't like slapstick humour when I am well, then sending me a funny card to cheer me up when I am in the middle of my distress is not going to work.  Meals are often great. But then I have a friend who loves cooking so much that when she is stressed, distressed and even sick, she cooks.  She cooks because it refreshes, sooths and calms her. (I can hardly imagine it...) Preparing a meal for her probably won't speak words of comfort into her sadness.  But quality time will, because she is a quality time girl.  Going and sitting in her kitchen with her and chatting while she cooks, all afternoon, will do it.
How to provide comfort in?  Know who you are comforting and then speak their language.  In that way you will love them well and help them to press on in good courage.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37-40

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