“Shut up!” “No, YOU shut up!” “I can’t stand this anymore!” “Why do I even talk to you?” “Who do you think you are?” “Leave me alone! Just leave me alone!”
If you’ve ever been in a fight, you know what it sounds like. At least two people screaming at the top of their lungs, ready to tear each other down, yelling like they can’t wait to see the other’s funeral. Then throwing their hands in the air and stomping out of the room. And by the end of it, we’re so spent we’ll count a meager “um, sorry, friends?” a victory. About ten hours later the whole thing might very well go on repeat.
But what if, instead of being satisfied with sloppy attempts to not scream, we actually looked at the Bible to teach us how to speak? And not just in fights, but all the time? I want to focus on one aspect of our everyday conversations: encouragement vs. tearing down.
One of the many verses on the topic is 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV), “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” It is hard to overestimate the importance of encouragement in our day-to-day lives. One of my favorite memories from my junior year in high school is receiving my April ACT scores. It was a pretty good result, but that was hardly the best part. When the results came and I told my dad what they were, he was SO proud and happy. For someone for whom words are their second love language and their father’s words are worth tons, that was one of the best things he could have gave me.
On the other hand, criticism can upset and depress a person way more than we think. The comments that fly out of our mouths before we think twice can wound people. A story my dad shares when he preaches or speaks about encouragement is a story of my brother at soccer practice years back. During practice, Albert scored about three goals. This was not a game, but it was still pretty cool for a 6-8-year-old boy. He came over to his coach and proudly asked, “Did you see me score those three goals?” But what does the coach say in return? “Well, you missed four more opportunities.” Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
This encouragement does not have to be about something huge. I am not just talking about congratulating people after shows or for their beautiful art project that took three weeks to complete. Yes, we should talk about those too, but I want to emphasize is the smaller things. Tell somebody they look good today. Remind them that they have a friend who’ll listen. Pat them on the back when it looks like they’re disappointed with themselves. Tell them you see how much effort they’re putting into something and you value that. Describe to someone why you love their personality. Tell them that, even if life doesn’t seem to make sense at the moment, God will never let them go.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) declares, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I hope we all look around us and see each other’s value, the value that is based solely on the fact that we are made by God and in God’s image. I hope we take the time and energy to remind each other of that value.