I was reminded this week of the value of encouragement. I spoke to over 300 people about Learning Disabilities. My husband commented that the number was way above my comfort zone, and it was. But I knew I had something valuable to say and felt it was a great opportunity to be an advocate for children who cannot explain their problem is or tell how to help them. God has done so much in my life and much of it came through the loving encouragement of my husband and family. I wrote the following article in the late ‘80s. It’s as true today as it was then. I hope it blesses you.
The second semester was less than a week away when I found myself in the headmistress’ office at our boys’ school. “Since one of our teachers had to return to the United States for emergency surgery,” she said, “we need to rearrange the teaching assignments. We can’t find anyone to teach Computer Keyboarding. Would you teach it for us?”
Earlier in my life my response would have been, “Me? You want me to teach Computer Keyboard? I’m not a qualified teacher. I didn’t take a typing course because my aptitude tests showed that I wouldn’t do well at office work. I don’t like new challenges and besides, I’ll never remember the students’ names!”
Instead of that response I found myself excited by the challenge. After asking a few questions about the curriculum and the equipment, I accepted the assignment. What made the difference? Why did I accept this new challenge when only a few years earlier I would have run from it?
For years I had lived in a prison of my own making. Rather than try something new, I rehearsed all the reasons I would surely fail. The more I talked about those barriers, the stronger the fortress that restricted me.
Seldom a Discouraging Word
When Mike and I were courting, he knew that I was shy and didn’t like to do anything new. In fact, my fears made me rigid. Although flexibility is important for marriage, Mike looked beyond that lack and saw potential. God gave him wisdom to help me to get out of my prison. He didn’t dynamite the foundation and leave me fully exposed to the world I feared. At first Mike only built steps so I could peek over the top and see a whole world of new possibilities. God created in me a desire to feel the fresh breezes and sunshine, to try something new, to expand my horizons.
When I expressed an interest in doing something new, Mike would reply, “Why not?” I’d have reasons ready for him, but he would show me that my reasons weren’t real. Seeing the truth set me free and little by little the walls came down. Mike’s encouragement was the key that released me to fulfill the desires God had put in my heart.
Some time ago I read Edith Schaeffer’s book, What is a Family? One chapter describes the family as “the birthplace of creativity.” She caused me to think about all the opportunities we have to discourage or encourage those around us to fulfill their God-given creative potential. This is one of her statements: “Parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and sisters and brothers can . . . stamp out, ridicule, and demolish the first attempts at creativity, and continue this demolition long enough to cripple spontaneous outbursts of creation.”
Most of us have experienced this kind of discouragement. For example, many students hate Speech class. Why? For years they have heard that what they say doesn’t make sense, or that it is stupid. Many of us would never try our hand at painting, not even in the secrecy of our own homes. Criticism has conditioned us to believe we will fail.
Perhaps our family life was good. People didn’t set out to hurt us. They were just doing what had been done to them. Thankfully, we don’t have to perpetuate the damage. We can establish an atmosphere of trust that allows everyone in the family to develop their talents fully.
Not stifling the creativity of a child is especially important. The capacity for genius may be hidden in the child until someone takes the time and patience to cultivate it. Those first efforts at drawing may not seem spectacular, but given the encouragement of a loving family, they may develop into a talent that will bless many.
When we lived in Africa, one of our American friends used her artistic talent to transform the atmosphere of their dull, dreary apartment. Due to the lack of good materials, it’s not easy to decorate a home in Nigeria. Using very simple methods and only what paint was available, she turned a large wall in her living room into a mural. She could have painted a scene of snow-capped mountains or autumn leaves. Instead, using only black paint, she created a striking silhouette of an African woman. It broke the monotony of the white walls, and showed her love for her new African friends as well.
Many new pursuits begin when we find the courage to talk about them. We must have the freedom to share our hopes and dreams. We need someone to listen to our “wild ideas.” A steady diet of words like, “That’s impossible!” or “Don’t be crazy!” soon closes the door to communication. Positive questions, on the other hand, open the door to new ideas.
When I was fifteen, I asked my mom what she thought about my going to South America for the summer as an exchange student. Immediately she called a travel agent to find out how much an air ticket would cost. I was stunned! She hadn’t laughed at me. Instead, she was seriously trying to see if there was any way to afford it.
That summer I spent in South America planted the desire to live overseas later in life. That seed, sowed in my fifteenth summer, bore fruit that has affected hundreds of lives in other countries and cultures.
The response we receive to our first effort at a new endeavor means everything. Will we continue developing our desires or will we crawl away in defeat? A friend’s understanding and honesty can make the difference.
Writing has not come easily for Mike or me, although he had some positive experiences in high school and college, and I didn’t. Today, we sometimes edit articles for each other. If we are too critical, not giving encouragement, the joy of writing dies before the spark of inspiration bursts to full flame. But if we start by looking at the idea and the general design, we inspire each other. That first positive response is so important. Once we see that the idea will work, the excitement and pleasure will carry us through the tedious process of editing and rewriting.
The friendly, supportive, responsive family life we share in our home has made it possible for me to leave the fortress of my fears. Now I rejoice in the freedom of accepting new challenges and learning new skills.
How many new steps have you encouraged your husband, wife, or children to make this year? The Lord is the Master Creator. Just look at the beautiful world He made. He created us to be creative, too. Make it your family’s goal to encourage new steps and new ventures. That kind of encouragement could release your child from his inner prison into new freedom and fulfillment.