What is encouraging?

One of the interesting things about reading blogs, especially the comments, and facebook stuff, too, is seeing how differently people do things. (It’s also why I liked Wife Swap back when we got ABC.)

One of my friends mentioned being discouraged about a project, and most of the commenters said things like “no, it’s going to be great.”

I already know I’m weird. One of the ways I’m weird is that this kind of encouragement can backfire for me. It sort of puts some pressure on reality, that it had better conform to everyone’s positive expectations or the world will end. Sometimes the way it’s phrased doesn’t help — “no negativity!” to me sounds like an order to deny, repress, or otherwise get rid of anything unpleasant, as if unpleasant things could be wished or willed away.

What works better for me, as I’ve mentioned here before, is to acknowledge first of all that what I fear may actually happen, and secondly to affirm that even the worst case scenario won’t destroy me. This approach allows me to fully feel my negative feelings — fear, anger, despair — and to face the specifics of the potential circumstances that provoke those feelings, without being overthrown by them. It encourages me to practice faith in a good and loving God who carries me through anything, rather than faith in a particular outcome God may or may not provide.

Sometimes I try to encourage my friends in the same way that works for me. Sometimes I wonder if they think I’m actually trying to discourage them, as if by acknowledging that the bad thing they fear may in fact happen, I’m wishing that it would. Or that such acknowledgment will open the door through which the bad thing can come. I hope that’s not how my efforts come across. And I need to remember that in the same way, other folks mean well when they try to tell me (or my friends) not to think negatively.

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4 thoughts on “What is encouraging?

  1. This struck a major chord with me, Marcy. I am going through cancer treatment currently, and sometimes it is helpful for me to discuss negative possible outcomes so that I can work through the fears associated with them and as you said, affirm that the worst-case-scenario won’t destroy me. Most people around me shy away from that process. Even when I spoke with the DOCTOR and tried to express my wishes if things went in a certain (negative) direction, he brushed it off saying how sure he was that it wouldn’t go that way. But as a result he was not able to hear what I was saying, which went BEYOND the outcome, but dealt with MY FEELINGS and WISHES regarding that possibility. Does this make sense?
    People in general seem to want everything to just be good and happy and want to brush anything else away as quickly as possible. But I’ve found that the road to peace & happiness sometimes runs through an honest discussion of negative or unwanted possibilities in order to get there.
    It’s hard to know how to encourage others though. Many people would find it strange to be encouraged by dwelling on the negative. I guess everyone processes things differently and the trick is to listen first and take our cues from others on the approach that works best for them. Not so easy though.
    Very interesting and thought-provoking post.

  2. Yes, your comment totally makes sense to me. I think what you and I are both saying is somewhere between dwelling on the negative and denying it altogether.

    I hope you find some folks that you can talk with frankly and get the kind of encouragement that would really support you through your treatment.

  3. You’re right on, Marcy! Never saying anything negative is like the “name it and claim it” people do – but they never then admit they’re sick and in need of healing – they just proclaim a healing. That certainly short circuits the process of working through those negative feelings to faith that God will bring about something good, whether it’s what we want or not.

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