Our need and desire for encouragement in life is inborn. We come into the world helpless and unable to do anything for ourselves, and depend on the encouragement of our primary caregivers to fuel our development.
Healthy kids want and expect continuous attention and cheering on from the important adults in their life. My grandson, Lincoln, for example, routinely tries to imitate his two older sisters, who love gymnastics and seem to spend a third of their lives upside down and flip-flopping around the house—not because he loves gymnastics, but because he wants my attention. He gets on his hands and feet, lifts one foot off the ground, and calls, “Mimi, watch! Watch!” Of course, I unfailingly tell him how amazing he is and how this simple act is worth great celebration.
This is how the encouragement cycle begins, and it remains critical to our growth throughout life. There’s probably no significant challenge or risk we can overcome without encouragement. This cycle can break down, however, for at least two reasons.
The first is when the supply of encouragement fails—when the attention and words of affirmation are replaced by distraction, silence, or worst of all, criticism.
The second reason is a little more complicated, and it’s when the demand for encouragement fails. This happens when people stop seeking genuine courage to fuel real growth in their life, and instead seek attention, affirmation, and approval that simply make them feel better about where they are without challenging them to change.
When I look at our society, I see the encouragement cycle broken on both ends. There’s both a general lack of encouragement and a false demand for “encouragement” that isn’t actually about providing courage to accomplish anything. People want to be cheered on without being in a race. Many have gone from being children receiving praise for childhood feats to being adults longing for the same praise without performing adult feats.
I understand that alongside our need for courage, we all need to be loved unconditionally for who we are, no matter our stage of growth or level of accomplishment. But we need to move past getting stickers and points for participation. We aren’t children any longer, and something inside us knows that we need more than getting a trophy just for showing up. Our hearts hunger for true courage, and a steady diet of affirmation and approval that we don’t metabolize into genuine risk-taking and growth simply won’t satisfy us.
Here are 4 keys to overcoming the courage deficit in our lives and building a healthy encouragement cycle that will fuel growth:
1. Take Responsibility to Stay Encouraged
The road to maturity is one from dependence to independence and interdependence. This means that we must become powerful people who understand that courage is meant to be exchanged in a reciprocal relationship in which we give as well as receive, not a relationship in which we expect outside forces to keep us moving toward our goals. Staying encouraged is first and foremost our responsibility.
2. Seek Feedback and Refuse to Be Offended
Powerful people surround themselves with people who speak the truth and call them on our stuff, and they do it because they recognize that courage comes from honest feedback.
It isn’t always pleasant to hear feedback, but ultimately it only damages us if we allow ourselves to be offended by it. As soon as we get offended, we turn into victims, become responsible for nothing, and will probably change nothing. This is the goal of the enemy. If he can keep us in the offended victim role, we will stay where we are—not moving forward, not taking ownership of our lives, and therefore not achieving our goals.
If someone is offering feedback, listen and see if it has some truth to it. You will find the genuine courage you need when you allow yourself to be challenged by those who love you.
3. Practice Encouraging Others
Everyone in our lives is facing challenges and needs to overcome obstacles to grow and achieve their dreams and callings. Many of them are struggling with discouragement. We have the privilege of calling out the gold in them just as we need them to do for us. Offering encouraging feedback is just as much our responsibility as receiving it.
4. Encourage Yourself in the Lord
I’ve watched my husband Danny be an encourager to so many people around the globe. For someone who didn’t have a father in the house after age 6, that is quite an accomplishment. I’ve often wondered how he’s done it. The only possible answer is that he had to learn to get encouragement from another source. One obvious source friends and leaders who have spoken courage over him. But even more importantly, he has learned to access the ultimate source of courage no matter who may or not be available to encourage him.
George Mueller said, “When nothing else will work, encourage yourself in the Lord. Do it with the word of God. Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, He will never fail you.”
God has an endless supply of courage available for us if we simply go to Him. Along with reading the Word, we encourage ourselves in the Lord by revisiting the dreams and aspirations He’s put in our hearts, remembering what He thinks about us, and taking a fresh look at what He is calling us to do. David often did this in the Psalms—sometimes after having a bit of a pity party, but that’s where we often start. What really matters is that we choose to go to the source and receive the courage we need.
God’s promise to Joshua stands true for all of us: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Receive His encouragement today, and use it to run after the things He’s put in your heart!
P.S. Sheri will be speaking at our upcoming Loving on Purpose Summit in Dallas, TX, March 8-11. Tickets are still available!