I’ve found a habit among strong Godly women, and just strong women in general, but especially in Godly women that I absolutely love.
They encourage. They build up their husbands. They build up their families. They build up their friends. They even build up strangers.
As a young child, I remember how my father would always make me do something just right, and even when I was doing it right, I still felt like it was wrong. I felt as though I was living on eggshells. At any moment, he could come and correct and say it was wrong, say I was wrong. Because he did it so often, I began to believe that there was something wrong with me. That I wasn’t worth what God said I was. That constant tearing down was crushing me, and my spirit was slowly fading as I longed and yearned for the chance of perfection, the invisible line that I never seemed to reach.
I finally gave up one day, and it was as if all of my fears were coming true. That I really was imperfect. That it really was just me. That I could never be enough for him. That maybe God set me aside and was only looking for the people who weren’t as bad as I was.
I figured there was something wrong with me, and it had to be me because my father acted so differently around other people. He wasn’t as harsh with them. He appeared to be a great father to them, and I was the one who didn’t get it, I was the one who was messed up. Obviously, or else I would be able to be treated like them. Right?
Wrong. He didn’t know what he was doing, and I don’t think he realizes to this day that he puts on masks in front of other people. All except those who actually live with him, even if they’re only there part of the time. We all do it on some unconscious level, but some have bigger masks than others. I believed those lies for so long, and I pretended that everything was alright for years before it finally was evident that it wasn’t.
I used to think that God created me to be put aside on a shelf. Not like one of those airplane models or fancy glass sculptures, something that you had to put in the closet because it was too messy to be on a shelf that everyone could see, something that would get dust on it and you didn’t even care because you bought it from someplace like the dollar store. And yet through every storm, through every trial, through every correction or criticism, He still drew close. I didn’t really understand it. I thought that He must have made a mistake. Like taking the wrong exit on a highway, and then ending up lost because you didn’t even know where you were going in the first place.
But He’s perfect, right? So, He couldn’t have made a mistake. So, I settled on the fact that maybe I was useless, not created for anything that big. Maybe for a few small jobs, things that wouldn’t require that much from old imperfect me. Sure, other imperfect people could do bigger jobs, but they weren’t as messed up as I was, so they didn’t really count.
And yet God still drew close, even when I said to Him that I knew my purpose, that I got the fact that He probably wanted anybody other than myself. One day I got a little fed up though. I was tired of rendering myself useless, tired of not being meant to do something, anything that was for a bigger purpose. I still thought that God didn’t want me, but that day when He drew close, in fact every time He drew close, but that time especially, it seemed as though I was right again. The right person for the job, even though I was shattered into pieces.
I’ve learned a lot since that day. I know who God uses, and I know that every person on this earth was meant to do something big, even if it might be considered something small by the world, it would be considered something huge in the Kingdom. God can use anybody, but He moves in amazing ways through people who are really messed up, and that is all of us, even if we choose not to admit it. I also know that we are called to encourage, all of us in our unique way, because we all know the wounds that are made by criticism. It goes deep into our hearts, and once it breaks it in two, then you can be healed and then you can help other people.
I learned it the hard way. I’m not saying this is the way it works for everyone, but I think this is the way things worked for me and some other people too:
1. We are born, and as children we bear our hearts wherever we go, we are not afraid to be vulnerable.
2. Something happens to trigger the reaction of cautiousness, causing us to be aware of the world’s destructiveness and causing us to bear our hearts less and less.
3. Things happen that break our hearts, crack by crack, and we try to stay strong in the midst of it. We pretend everything is fine until we’re forced to know and feel that it isn’t.
4. Our hearts eventually break. With enough destruction and jabs toward us, we eventually break, and the cracks can no longer stay wrapped in the little bow we pretend they are.
5. We close our hearts because we’re afraid to be broken again. We are afraid of the costs and we fear the stakes are just too high to actually bear our souls to others.
6. Our hearts wake again. Whether that be decades later or only a few years later, they wake up somehow, by God orchestrating a series of events or emotions that remind us of who we once were.
7. We begin to bear our hearts to Him. We aren’t afraid anymore, because we know enough about Him to either know He won’t break us and has a purpose for our lives, or to just be able to risk it hoping for the best and usually getting even better.
8. Once we’ve experienced this re-awakening of our souls we start to bear our hearts to others a bit more, being ok with the risks because God will never leave us and we know we’re accepted by Him if no one else.
9. Finally, we start to spread the fire within our hearts, the flame that has been reignited in our souls. We start to wear our hearts on our sleeves because we know it might encourage others to do the same. We start building up instead of hiding or tearing down. With that we get even more pleasure out of this life we thought might wreck us or not be worth living fully in. We spread God wherever we go, not being afraid to bear our hearts because we know that God has totally messed with our hearts and we are so excited to share that with others and see God transforming their lives to fill a need and fulfill His purpose for them.
That’s how it worked for me. And I think some others may agree with that as well (that it worked for them, not that it worked for me). We were made to encourage and build up others, not to tear them down with insults or with critiquing their efforts. Constructive criticism is good, but if it is used too often to point out everything someone did wrong instead of at least a few things they did right, it can cause many wounds. But if you’re like me and you have those wounds and they need to be fixed, then don’t be afraid to go to God. He loves you and He made you for something God-sized, something that will help the Kingdom, even if you don’t think it or feel it or even believe it right now.
We were all made for a God-sized purpose, and we were also made to build up others and encourage them to chase after those dreams and those purposes, to chase after God. Encouragement is a part of our purposes, even if it’s small or even if you think it isn’t. Look for those opportunities where you are today. In your job, in your home, in your local Food Lion, and be a representative of Jesus wherever you go. I promise you will find them, even in the seemingly small moments. You just have to look.
So, what is it for you? What opportunities do you have on a regular basis? What are some things you love to say to people when you’re encouraging them and how has encouragement helped shape your daily life?