How to Encourage, One Adjective at a Time


Because I do not have the spiritual gift of encouragement, I have to work at it. Through the years, I have learned how important it is to send a card, speak a kind word or take the time to let a co-worker know I believe in her.

Other encouragers have taught me how to send email messages to my pastor, thanking him for a particular phrase in his sermon that taught me about God’s grace. Another suggestion involved cleaning the house of a woman who broke her foot, and taking meals to women struggling with the brutality of breast cancer.

But it has been my role as a parent that has taught me the most about encouragement.

In the original Latin, “en” means “to put into” while “cor” stands for the heart. So literally, when we encourage someone, we are pouring into his or her heart.

As a parent, I’ve struggled for creative ways to encourage my son. He wandered through a difficult adolescence when all the prayers, parenting skills and how-to books fell flat. So I hoped a more proactive attitude toward encouragement might help.

We puttered along, trying to understand one another, moment by moment. Then one day, we met one of my colleagues coming out of McDonald’s. I placed my arm around my boy and said, “This is my wonderful son.” Just the addition of the adjective “wonderful” produced a magical effect. My son stood up a little straighter, and a grin played with the corners of his pubescent mustache.

We both knew his behavior wasn’t so wonderful, but for that moment – I wanted him to know it wasn’t about how he acted as much as who he was. He got the point.

Life did not automatically or miraculously change. We had many rocky days, but it was almost as if a cartoon call-out hung over his head with the caption, “Mom thinks I’m wonderful. Maybe I am. Maybe I can be.”

I realized God gave me the perfect example when he announced, “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17).

So I made it a regular habit to use an encouraging phrase whenever I introduced my boy. “This is my gifted son who plays drums better than anyone else in town.”

“This is my muscular son who helps me lift the vacuum cleaner.”

We made it through those difficult years. Now that he’s an adult, I often tell him, “You’re a good man.” In our harsh world of hard work and scary trials, I want him to know how much I respect him and his attempts to react well when the world comes against us. He often grins underneath his full-grown moustache.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the Apostle Paul reminds us to “Encourage the timid, help the weak and be patient with everyone.”

As we practice encouragement, we can improve at the skill of pouring into someone’s heart. That skill, in turn, boomerangs back into our own hearts and pours out gratitude for the opportunity to help others.

Sometimes, all it takes is one adjective.