A couple of weeks ago I was working on a writing piece and within the same paragraph I typed the word ‘encouragement’ and then a few sentences later ‘courage’. As I typed the word ‘courage’ those keystrokes felt very familiar so I looked back over the last few sentences and saw ‘encouragement’.
And then it hit me…(drum roll please) the word COURAGE is in the word ENCOURAGEMENT. I know, sometimes I am a little slow. But when I think of the word ENCOURAGEMENT and how we generally use the term, I think of a sappy, sentimental, greeting card word that simply makes people feel better or makes them feel more hopeful about whatever their current circumstances might be. To give someone encouragement can have that effect, but the word is so much more than that.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (you know it’s my favorite) defines COURAGE as: “Bravery; intrepidity; that quality of mind which enables men to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness, or without fear or depression of spirits; valor; boldness; resolution. It is a constituent part of fortitude; but fortitude implies patience to bear continued suffering.”
And here’s its definition of ENCOURAGE: “To give courage to; to give or increase confidence of success; to inspire with courage, spirit, or strength of mind; to embolden; to animate; to incite; to inspirit.”
To encourage someone is to give them courage, bravery, boldness and fortitude. There is power and strength in a true word of encouragement.
The converse is true, too. When we DISCOURAGE someone, we actually take away their courage, we drain their strength, we decrease their confidence.
I keep picturing a festive, Mylar balloon. Encouragement would be like inflating it with helium. Discouragement would be like draining the helium from the balloon. When we lack courage, we are like an unfilled balloon.
So I am considering all those times people have tried to encourage me, what did they say that actually gave me courage? I am struggling to think of an example. I remember lots of times people said things designed to make me feel better in the moment, but not a specific time when someone imparted courage to me. This isn’t a commentary on the people in my life it’s just that nothing significant springs to mind.
The really sad thing is that I can’t really think of a time when I truly spoke courage to someone else. That is unless you count, “Suck it up buttercup!” But I think we all know that does NOT count. And of course, I have said many things intended to simply make others feel better.
Why are we so uncomfortable watching others struggle? Why is my immediate go-to-response to say exactly the right thing that will make them feel better? Wouldn’t it be better to impart courage to help them get through their struggle and make it to the other side of it?
Back to Webster’s definition of courage, that last line in the definition really strikes a chord with me: “…patience to bear continued suffering.” Sometimes we don’t need to just feel better, sometimes we need to make it through to the other side of whatever we are in and we simply need courage.
What about you? Can you think of a time when something someone said actually imparted courage, bravery, or “patience to bear continued suffering” to your soul? How can we impart courage to others?