How many of you get too much encouragement? Do people tell you how wonderful you are everywhere you go? When you get to work does everyone stop and clap for you? When you arrive home do you get a standing ovation? Do your kids carry around pictures of you in their wallet and show it to everyone saying, "These are my parents, aren't they wonderful?" Do you get so much encouragement that you have to get away from it? Do you drive off and get pulled over by a policeman and he says, "I just want to encourage you for driving so well. Here take this money." Your life is probably not like that. As a matter of fact, all of us need encouragement. A good rule to remember is that if people are breathing, they need some encouragement.
Most of us probably feel like the traveling salesman who once walked into a restaurant and said to the waitress, "Bring me some burnt toast, watered down scrambled eggs, and some weak, cold coffee." The waitress said with some doubt, "Yeah, sure. What else would you like?" "Just sit across from me," the man pleaded, "and nag me. I'm terribly homesick." Unfortunately, sometimes we're not homesick but "heresick." A little boy was at summer camp and one of the counselors saw him sitting on his cot looking very despondent. He said, "What's the matter Billy? Are you homesick?" Billy answered, "No, I'm heresick." Homesick or heresick, the cure is encouragement.
There are days when life is throwing you a fastball and you don't even have a glove. And no matter how well or how poorly you're doing, no one suffers from too much encouragement. People need encouragement when they least deserve it.
A woman went into the gun shop to buy a gun and told the storekeeper, "I want to buy a small revolver for my husband." The storekeeper replied, "Yes Ma'am, did your husband give any indication of which make he prefers?" "No, he doesn't even know I'm going to shoot him yet." Don't give up on people.
In the play A Raisin in the Sun, there's a scene where Walter has lost all of the family's savings, savings that were going to make this family's dream come true. Now this dream has dried up like "a raisin in the sun." Beneatha is so disgusted with her brother that she says, "There ain't nuthin' left to love." In a climactic, emotion-filled moment, Mama puts her hands on her daughter's shoulders, looks her directly in the eyes, and says: "Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most; when they done good and made things easy for everybody? Well, then, you ain't through learning - because that ain't the time at all. It's when he's at his lowest and can't believe in hisself 'cause the world done whipped him so."
Not giving up on people keeps them from giving up. Jackie Robinson rose through the ranks of the Negro Baseball League. He became the first African-American Major League Baseball player. He had a horrible year. They threw racial slurs at him and insults all across this country. He said the turning point of his life was in Cincinnati, the hometown of PeeWee Reese, the famous shortstop of the Dodgers. They were hurling insults at Jackie Robinson and calling him names. They had a delay of the game and PeeWee Reese walked over and put his arm around Jackie Robinson and just stood there for a moment for the entire world to see. PeeWee Reese was saying, "He's my teammate. He's in my family. He's part of me." From then on Jackie Robinson said that he knew he would be able to make it.
One of the more obscure exhibits in the Smithsonian Institution displays the personal effects found on Abraham Lincoln the night he was shot. They include a small handkerchief embroidered A. Lincoln, a country boy's pen knife, a spectacle case repaired with cotton string, a Confederate five-dollar bill, and a worn-out newspaper clipping extolling his accomplishments as president. It begins, "Abe Lincoln is one of the greatest statesmen of all time...." Why would our nation's sixteenth president carry around a clipping like that? History remembers Lincoln as a folk hero and a president's president. Was Lincoln an egomaniac? Hardly. When Lincoln was president, he wasn't as popular as he became after his death. The nation was bitterly divided, and Lincoln's leadership was constantly threatened. He was the object of a critical press. So Abraham Lincoln needed something in his pocket to remind him that his critics were not his only observers. He carried an icon of affirmation, something that reminded him that
someone believed in him.
This is how we encourage people, by telling them how much you believe in them. So find someone who is breathing and offer a word of encouragement. They might not carry a picture of you in their wallet, but I suspect they will carry a snapshot of you in their heart.
Charles Lowery is pastor of Hoffmantown Church, Albuquerque, N.M.