A man has joy in an apt answer,
And how delightful is a timely word! – Proverbs 15:23
Cindi and I received a thank-you note of encouragement today. It was written a few days ago, but I got it today (the Lord is sovereign over timing, too). Cindi’s in Oklahoma with her family for the next few weeks, so I opened the note myself. I read it to her later on the phone. You’d be amazed at how uplifting a paragraph can be. Directed by the perfect providence of God and crafted by a thoughtful heart, six sentences can breathe life.
“How delightful is a timely word!” There are times when you know that someone needs encouragement. At times, the downcast soul is obvious. Whether you pass a stranger on the sidewalk and see the tears running down her face or whether you’re driving quietly down city streets late at night with a friend and can just feel the heart-sighs, you know. You just know.
Sometimes, though, the groaning is secret. The groaning may not be pure misery and it may not be utter disillusion, but still it flows from a deep and ingrained sadness that goes unseen. How many saddened people do you think you walk past or sit next to or talk to on any given day? How about today? To answer the question, remember your own days — days when the sun hasn’t seemed as bright, days when the laughter all around you seemed empty, days when the sky was clear but the soul was cloudy. No one knew except you. Not that you had a right to pity yourself or be bitter at other people’s unavoidable ignorance. You were still called to persevere in faith and to put others’ interests above your own. But those days were hard. And we all have them. And sometimes, they line up end to end and start to form seasons — winters of the soul.
During these days and seasons, a timely word brings relief and happiness. It’s “delightful,” the wise man says. An encouraging comment is like being invited into a lodge, shaking the snow off your boots, settling down by a crackling fire, sipping a mug of hot chocolate, and being given a warm, dry pair of wool socks to put on before you head out. Yeah, you still have to head back out into the snow, and it may be awhile before springtime comes. But boy, those twenty minutes in the lodge will sure help for the next few miles.
You may not think much of your encouraging note or word or phone call or email or hug. You may think, “Everyone around me seems to be doing just fine, and I’ve got my own stuff to take care of.” And you’re right — you do have stuff to take care of, and it’s good stuff. Stuff you need to do. But as the Lord lays it on your heart, go ahead and take the time to offer a timely word to a friend — or a stranger. Affirm your friend who’s growing in Christlikeness. Tell your Mom that you appreciate her years of labor and love and patience toward you. Email your professor and let him know that you know he works hard, and that he will be rewarded at the resurrection of the righteous. Stop and ask something beyond a fading “Hey, what’s up?” and be ready to listen. You may pass a hundred people on the sidewalk tomorrow and only have time to talk to one of them, and only for five minutes. That’s fine. Let’s not judge each other for our quick passings and our “Sorry-I-gotta-go’s.” But sometimes, let’s take the five minutes. Your five minutes, if seasoned with grace, just may be a brilliant ray of light piercing someone’s dark day. And that’s worth it.
So be liberal in life-words. Be generous with mug-of-hot-chocolate-on-a-winter-day words. Encourage.
Sure, there are times to lovingly blister people with your speech. There are times to challenge and rebuke and scold and nail to the wall. We all need to hear it straight more often than we’d like to think. But there are times to soothe and support and uplift, too. A deep, sincere look in the eyes along with the I’m-prepared-to-listen version of “Hey, how you doin’?” can go a long way.
Six sentences can be someone’s fuel for another day’s perseverance.
So let us be done with frivolous speech and insensitive hearts and unobservant eyes. Fighting the good fight is too hard and perseverance is too important to not encourage each other. The soul is too flimsy to do without daily support. You don’t have to say a lot to that one person, nor do you have to say a little to a lot of persons. Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything. And sometimes, you don’t have to know anything. You can just write six sentences of encouragement to someone whose need for encouragement you know nothing about. And the Lord in His providence will encourage him. Just do your small part. Because a timely word is nothing less than delightful.