Never underestimate the power in a kind word

Slogging along through life gets really old really fast, especially if you’re stuck in a period of waiting for God to act. You know He’s going to do something, and whatever it is will be amazing and wonderful and life-changing. But until you get there, you’re just stuck. And it’s everything you can do to just keep functioning.

So what happens if someone comes along and notices? What happens when they demonstrate that they care about you or about how hard you’ve been working? how does that make you feel?

For me, it’s energizing. I can have my head down, buried in Word documents, cranking out word count like a fiend, but if someone comes along and mentions how much they enjoy what I’m writing, suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like my feet are stuck in the mud. The mud just becomes an obstacle to overcome, and it feels like it’s worth it.

person-woman-hand-rainyToday’s verses are Acts 4:36-37.

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

How would you like to have nickname like that? This guy Joseph, who the apostles nicknamed Barnabus, was such a cool, uplifting guy that they called him The Encourager. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of reputation? The kind of vibe that just cheered people up wherever you went?

The thing people don’t always understand about encouragers is that they aren’t always obliging. They don’t always tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they tell you what you need to hear, whether it’s fun or not. They are kind people, overall, and they care about you, but they care enough about you not to lie to you or coddle you. They love you enough to tell you the truth.

Sometimes that’s not easy to swallow, as the Apostle Paul eventually discovered in his relationship with Barnabus, but it’s what you need to hear to get you back on track with God. If your perspective is off, you need someone to smack you upside the back of the head to help you get straight again.

Who are the encouragers in your life? Yes, there’s a place for the cuddlers and the caretakers. There’s a time when you need someone to hug you and feed you cookies, but those times should be few and far between. More often than not, we need our encouragers to come along and challenge us to pick up our sword and get back into the fight.

They’ll do it kindly. They’ll speak truth in love to you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s probably what you need to hear.

So are you feeling down? Are you tired and weary? Yes, rest, if you need to, but if you don’t? Find an encourager. It may not be the happiest conversation you’ve ever had, but I guarantee it will change you–or at least it will change the way you look at your situation. And really, that’s what most of us need anyway.

Shaggy donkey at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How assumptions can damage your relationships

Say it’s been a month since you talked to someone. And it’s not someone you know extremely well—more of an acquaintance. After that month passes, do you think any differently of that person? Do the whispers start in your brain that maybe they don’t like you and that’s why they haven’t tried to communicate with you?

I’m an introvert. But being an introvert doesn’t make you shy, though most shy people are introverts. I can be shy when I’m in a new situation or when I’m forced to interact with people I respect a lot. When I’m around people I’m comfortable with, I’ll talk your ear off. But I won’t chase you down to tell you a story. I’m one of those weirdos who waits until you come up to me and express interest in me—then I’ll tell you stories ‘til I’m blue in the face.

But if other people don’t make the effort to talk to me, I don’t even think about pursuing them, unless it’s someone within my really tight circle. And then, it’s not instinctual. I have to remind myself to reach out to people I love. It’s not my default.

For people I’m already very close to, I assume they know I love them. For people I’m only acquaintances with, I assume they don’t like me or I annoy them or they just aren’t interested in me or my life or my perspective.

But there’s an old saying about making assumptions, which I won’t repeat here. But I’m willing to bet most people have heard it. And I was reminded yesterday about the dangers of assuming and how it can cause harm to your relationships.

Shaggy donkey at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Shaggy donkey at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 11:3.

He will delight in obeying the Lord.
    He will not judge by appearance
    nor make a decision based on hearsay.

So how do you get through life when you don’t know all the answers? Quite honestly, we just won’t know everything, and sometimes we’ll have to guess. But I believe there’s a difference between guessing and assuming. A guess implies that you’ve done your research, that you’ve done your best with a subject that has no real concrete answer, and you’ve made the best choice you could. An assumption implies that you’re just taking something for granted, whether it’s actually true or not.

No one should ever live life that way.

Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that you’re right. Don’t assume that someone else is wrong. Don’t assume everyone is happy with you. Don’t assume everyone is angry with you.

Now if you’re guessing—if you’re taking the facts and coming to a logical conclusion, that’s different. But assumption means you’re just choosing to believe something without even looking at the facts.

I hadn’t talked to this one person in ages. Ages and ages. And, to be very honest, I was half expecting that this person had decided I wasn’t really worth talking to. And it didn’t bother me too much. We aren’t close friends. So I assumed I just wasn’t important to this person anymore.

Why? No communication. For me, the introvert, I assumed that lack of communication mean this person no longer wanted to communicate with me anymore at all.

Guess what? I assumed wrong.

We ended up in a room together yesterday and had a great conversation with lots of laughing and storytelling and just general good times. I had stored up a list of things to talk about in the off chance I’d run into this person, and I went over them. And we agreed on every single one.

It was just entirely pleasant.

So I spent the rest of the afternoon kicking myself because I know better than to assume anything about relationships. Just because our positions had changed, just because our relationship had changed somewhat, didn’t mean this person didn’t want to talk to me anymore. It just meant the opportunity for us to talk at all had been greatly diminished. But that didn’t mean my opinion or perspective—or even me personally—was any less valuable.

It’s my own foolish insecurities whispering in my ear.

So who is that person in your life who you haven’t spoken to in a long time? Or maybe they haven’t spoken to you? Are you guessing that they aren’t interested in talking to you? Or are you assuming?

If you have definite evidence that they don’t want to be a part of your life, well that’s not an assumption. That’s a pretty fair guess, especially if they’ve made it clear that they want nothing to do with you.

But if you’re just being emotional about it? Be honest. If you’re just taking something personally? Or if you just have made the decision without any evidence? That’s not a good decision. Decisions made that way rarely turn out for the best.

If it’s a relationship you value, reach out to them. If it’s one you aren’t really interested in pursuing, don’t worry about it (why are you even concerned about it?). If you choose to assume something about them that isn’t true, you’re going to cause your friendship to break apart.

Whatever you choose to do, don’t assume. Don’t take anything for granted. Life is too short and friendships are too precious to risk because you’re scared of the truth.

Lonely tree at sunrise

Compassion with, not compassion on

Do you ever get tired of people trying to comfort you when they have no idea how you feel? I do. I know they mean well. It’s them being compassionate, right? But what is compassion?

Most of the time people who try to convince me that they understand what I’m feeling just irritate me. Because half the time they have no concept of what it is to live the life I live, to work my job, to deal with the stress I have to manage. I’m sure they can imagine it, but they can’t really understand it.

Lonely tree at sunrise

Lonely tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 4:15.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

The High Priest mentioned in this verse is Jesus. A tiny bit of history: the Jewish faith system was set up with a High Priest who would go into the Holiest part of the Temple once a year to make an offering to pay for the sins of the nation. It was a really complicated process, and I’m speeding through this. But it was their Day of Atonement, and the High Priest was the only one who was allowed to intercede between God and His People.

When Jesus died for our sins, He became our High Priest, the intercessor between us and God, so that now when we need to speak to God, we don’t have to go through another man. We can pray in Jesus’ name and have free access to God.

What’s different about Jesus as our High Priest is that He understands our weaknesses. Jesus faced every trial and temptation we face. He went through all of the same issues that we go through. He experienced all the pain and the hurt that we have felt. He did it without sin, of course, but he still went through it. So when Jesus says He can understand our issues, He means it. Because He experienced everything we do. He can understand it.

To me, that is true compassion.

Compassion is one of those virtues that I think people get mixed up a lot. Compassion can really only be shared. We say that you can have compassion on someone. I don’t think that’s right. You can have mercy on someone. But you can have compassion with someone. Compassion and mercy aren’t the same. Mercy is giving someone something they don’t deserve. Compassion is sharing in suffering. If you want to have compassion on someone, you have to experience the same problems that they are experiencing.

Compassion International is a great program, but it’s about mercy. If you want to feel compassion for those little children you are supporting, go live in a third world country with no medicine, no food, no water, and no shelter. Then, when you really understand what it’s like to live the way they do, you can have compassion with them.

Real compassion is difficult. Because it requires us to share in the suffering of others. It requires us to live like Jesus did on a level that most American Christians won’t attempt. Because American Christianity is only about being comfortable.

So, am I saying sell everything and go live in an Indian slum? No. Although, if you feel called to do that, you should. I guess what my heart was really saying to me this morning is that I need to be patient in the midst of my struggles and problems because the things I’m going through today will allow me to have real compassion with someone in the future.

It’s happened more times than I can count, that God has used events and experiences in my life to bless someone else with. And that’s not my doing. That’s Him preparing me for something bigger than I am. My struggle is recognizing it when I’m in the midst of it. But I know of Christians who refuse to go on mission’s trips because they will have to eat food that they don’t like or they will have to live out of a backpack with limited cosmetics. Yes, there are medical reasons for some people to not leave the country. That’s one thing. But if you want to go on a mission’s trip and you expect the culture and the missionaries in the field to cater to your comfort level, you need to check your attitude. It’s the same with home missions. If you want to reach out to the people on the street, you’d better be prepared to live the way they do.

God has called us to live compassionate lives like Jesus did. But are we willing to share in the suffering of others? Are we willing to get down and dirty and uncomfortable to achieve that?