By offering some words of encouragement, we can help others face their present and future with courage!
Flowers in hand, I rang the doorbell of my friend's apartment. After three weeks on a new job, her boss had called her into his office this morning and informed her that things weren't working out and he was going to have to let her go. I knew my friend was taking it hard; it had taken her several months to find this job, and now she was going to have to start searching again.
My heart raced as I approached the door. What was I going to say? Should I try to make her laugh and get her mind off her situation? If I ask her how she is doing, will she think I am praying? If I don't bring up what happened today, will she think I'm being insensitive to what she's going through?
When the door opened, I handed my friend the flowers and nervously blurted out that I cared about her and that I wanted to help in any way she needed. I could tell she had been through a lot that day, so I stayed only a few minutes and then hugged her good-bye and went home. A few days later she sent a card, thanking me for the flowers, but especially for the encouraging words.
For most people life has its share of disappointments. Fatigue from a demanding schedule, financial difficulties, a failed endeavor at work or school, health problems, difficulty getting along with a family member or friend-these are times when a person can feel frustrated and discouraged.
Our words can be a valuable tool to cheer up and encourage a person who is down. Proverbs 25:11 tells us, "Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is a word spoken in right circumstances" (New American Standard Bible). By offering some words of encouragement, we can help discouraged people face their present and future with courage and a positive outlook.
Yet often that's easier said than done. Sometimes we want to help, but we've never been in a situation similar to what the discouraged person is facing and are at a total loss for words. Maybe we don't know the person's circumstances well enough to comment on specifics, but we still want to show our concern. When you want to give someone a word of encouragement and don't know what to say, here are 10 phrases that help bring new perspective to a discouraged person's life.
"Let me know if you ever need to talk."
One way to help is by letting the other person know you're available to listen if he or she ever wants to talk about the problem. You may not be able to give advice from your own experiences or background, but just listening and trying to understand the other person's perspective can be a big comfort. Often being able to talk about the particular problem is just what a discouraged person needs to sort through his or her concerns and gain the insight needed to deal with the situation.
"You've made progress."
People who are discouraged rarely see their own achievements-in their personal lives, in their careers or educational goals, or in their lives as Christians. You can cheer on those who are down by helping them see their personal growth and accomplishments. Acknowledge any new habits or achievements. You might say: "A few months ago you rarely exercised. I'm really impressed that you've stuck with your aerobics program," or "You used to tell me you would never get used to using a computer. Now you're an old pro!"
Point out trends you've seen in your friend over the months and years, such as improvements in how he relates to others. If you know it's a struggle for your friend to keep his cool under deadlines at work, you could tell him, "I've noticed how patient you are with your employees lately." Help the discouraged person focus on his or her progress rather than failures.
"You're not alone."
You can remind a person who is discouraged that he or she is not alone-you are choosing to face his problems with him and certainly others are also rallying behind him. Reassure your friend that you want the best for him and that you are praying about the situation. Help your friend see that he is not the only person to face that particular problem. If you know of other people who've been in such a situation, suggest that your friend talk to that person. Your friend will feel less isolated and will gain constructive information to help work through the problem.
"I really admire you for ..."
A person who is depressed often has lost sight of his good qualities. You can encourage that person by pointing out his genuine strengths. What are your friend's natural talents and abilities? What personal traits do you appreciate in him? What about the other person do you see as attractive to others? Go beyond appearance or personality. Point out your friend's personal strengths such as dependability, friendliness, trustworthiness, patience, sincerity and other character traits you value in him. Talk about the positive differences your friend has made in other people's lives. Statements such as, "Your smile really cheers me up," or "The way you treat your kids has been a wonderful example for me to follow," can be encouraging.
"The present is not the future."
Those who are discouraged tend to see their present problems as overwhelming and can't envision their future as being any better. You can help them see that one day they will be able to function better than they can at present. Ask such questions as, "What would you like to be doing next month that you can't do now?" or "How do you hope to be living this time next year?" Encourage your friend to write down a few goals for future reference. While your friend is talking, listen for statements such as, "I always wanted to ..." or "I wish I had ..." and then urge your friend to make those undertakings his or her goals. Get the discouraged person excited about something positive. Focusing on a brighter future helps a person gets past a gloomy present.
"You're not a failure."
Another way to get a handle on discouragement is to remind others that they're not a failure just because they're at a low point and experiencing negative feelings. If you've been frustrated over a similar situation in the past, be willing to talk about how you were feeling at the time. Knowing you were able to stick it out may give them the motivation to go on. Remind your friend that it is normal to feel frustration, discouragement and disappointment now and then; however, as Christians we should not let depression destroy us.
"I want to help in any way I can."
Offer to help your friend and provide assistance in any way you can. Doing so will take some burdens off your friend so that he or she can focus on solving the problem at hand. Realize the other person may feel uncomfortable asking for help, so your offering to help in specific ways may take a big load off the other person. Offer to take your friend's children to the park or to baby-sit. Ask if she would like you to go grocery shopping for her or if she needs clothes taken to the laundry or dry cleaners. Offer to cook and deliver a complete meal, to water her garden or to pick her up from the airport. Put yourself in the other person's shoes and try to anticipate what might be genuine needs.
"There are solutions."
Discouraged people often feel they are in a hopeless situation and cannot see what resources are available to solve their problems. Help your friend see that there's at least one way to improve the situation, and maybe more. Together with your friend, brainstorm as many solutions to the situation as possible-even silly, far-fetched ideas are okay, if they make your friend laugh and get his mind off the problem. Talk about each option and help your friend figure out which plan is best.
"You did really well."
A discouraged person is often preoccupied with a specific failure or mistake. One way to help is by finding something about the person that you can sincerely applaud: "You did a good job!" "I really appreciated all your hard work." "I was impressed by your insight." "I thought you had some great ideas!" Don't overlook the little, everyday things. Let an employee know you appreciate her meeting a deadline or her informative presentation. Tell family members how much you appreciate their hard work doing chores or preparing a special meal. Sincerely compliment your friend's initiative, ideas, efforts, achievements or choices.
"You are a special person."
No other person has your friend's unique opportunities in life or thinks the same way your friend does. Nobody else can duplicate his or her personality, childhood, family life and other experiences. No other person has that particular combination of talents, insights and personality traits. Point out the ways your friend is truly one of a kind. Tell your friend, "There has never been and never will be another person exactly like you, and I'm grateful for knowing you." Let your friend know how much you care for him or her and enjoy spending time together.
Keep in mind that encouragement is truthful. It is not blind reassurance, for example, to say, "Things are okay," or "Things will get better soon," when the facts may be saying just the opposite. If we tell other people that things are all right when they're not, this tends to confuse them and makes them feel guilty when they in fact see the situation differently. If we try to predict the future and tell another person things will turn out okay and, in fact, they turn out badly, this tends to disillusion or disappoint the discouraged person.
Focus on what you know to be true: that you care about the person and are pulling for him. To know there are others who are concerned about them and who are by their sides even during their low points can give those who are discouraged the strength they need to face setbacks and challenges with a positive mindset. GN