Olivia and I were just chatting yesterday when I said, “Did you know I think you’re a pretty smart kid?” The question was brought on by something she had said that just struck me as a pretty observant thought for a child her age. Although I never want my kids to have a stuck-up “smarter than thou” attitude, nor do I want them to feel that being smart is in any way give them an automatic connection with God, I do try to encourage each of them in their own skills and strengths.
But, Olivia’s answer surprised me. “Not really,” she shrugged. Shocked, I just looked at her and asked, “Do I not tell you I think that?”
As we talked, two things occurred to me. First, I don’t complement her enough when she works hard to accomplish something outside of her comfort zone. We put a lot of prayer into math because it doesn’t come naturally to her. But, through that prayer and her perseverance, she has always done well in math, even when it’s been hard. She needs to know that it’s “smart” to rely on God to help her in her weaknesses.
But, there’s another side to it as well. I also want her to realize that her usage of the gifts God has naturally given her – the things that come easily to her – is something that deserves complements as well. Using our talents well is a sign of wisdom and obedience. Just because it comes naturally to her does not mean it isn’t a big deal. She needs to realize that her obedience is something worth commendation.
I understand that we need to be careful about building up someone else’s strengths. As I said before, the goal here is not to create a cocky, over-confident, “better than anyone else” attitude. It is so critical to make sure that any encouragement is appropriately seen in light of God’s accomplishment through us. And, that is something I work hard to teach my children (although it doesn’t always take!).
But, having said that, I think there are too many times when we go overboard withholding complements that our fellow believers need to hear. They need the encouragement as much as Olivia does!
So, let me ask this…
How often do we thank and encourage those who are stepping out of their comfort zone and relying completely on the strength of God to accomplish a task that they know they have no ability to do on their own? I have been teaching the youth class on Wednesday nights, and all through the past year I had a wonderful partner. The thing is, I am a natural teacher. She is not. And yet, she jumped in turns her turn teaching. She worked. She prepared. And she did such an amazing job every time she taught. I loved to listen to her! And, although I know I didn’t encourage her nearly enough, I tried on several occasions to let her know that I was impressed with the way she stepped up and tackled something that was not among her strengths simply because God had stirred her to do it. And, God grew her so much because of her willingness to rely on Him.
Secondly, how often do we thank people for what they do that comes so naturally? As much as my Wednesday night partner is not a teacher, I am not a children’s teacher. Give me youth. Give me adults. But, stick me with children, and I’m a mess! I am more tired after an hour with the little ones than I am after a day with youth or adults. So, I try to make it a point to thank the people who teach my children at church. Not often enough, I know, but I try to do it faithfully. They are awesome people, and they need to know just how much I appreciate them! They usually just shrug, smile, and say, “Oh, it’s so easy! I love it!” as if it’s no big deal. But, I try to let them know how big of a deal it really is.
Any boasting, any encouragement, any building up needs to be done appropriately and in a manner that brings glory to God and His work in us. But it cannot be neglected. We need to hear the encouragement. Others do too. Let us be free and open in our encouragement of one another, and build the body up to full obedience as we encourage!