We love the thought of being in the game, but when our moment comes we shrink back because of the times we dropped the ball, the times others ridiculed us, the times when our best was not good enough. The only way we courageously take a risk is when the thought of the desired outcome motivates us beyond fear of possible failure.
Long ago, one of my joyful duties was that of directing summer camps for children. I was thinking this morning of a little kid who came to camp one summer. I think his name was Jason. He was overweight and socially awkward; one of those kids who is not going to win a popularity contest, or any other contest for that matter. He’d already learned, by the time he was 8 years old, that when you are a short, fat little kid with a bad buzz haircut, interaction with other people can cause more pain than joy. He was adept at flying under the radar. Jason needed some encouragement.
Encourage and Be Encouraged by Creating a Safe Zone to Practice Risk Taking and Exposure
We get good at flying under the radar; of staying in our safe zone. If we don’t take risks or expose ourselves we won’t fail or fall. There are two kinds of kids on a basketball team, the ones who believe in themselves and want to play, and those who are timid, fearing possession of the ball with all eyes on them. The former sits on the bench near the coach hoping to be put in the game. The latter sits as far away from the coach as possible, hoping to not be noticed.
We love the thought of being in the game, but when the moment comes we shrink back because of the times we dropped the ball, the times others ridiculed us, the times when our best was not good enough. We fear repeating our failures. When we lose a love or a spouse, it hurts so much that trying the whole thing again, creating a new opportunity for loss, is a big risk. We are fragile and do not want to expose our tender under bellies. The only way we courageously take a risk is when the thought of the desired outcome motivates us beyond the fear of possible failure.
Find places to “practice” where failure is not an issue, and if you are the “coach” create an environment where failure is an opportunity to learn.
We are fragile and do not want to expose our tender under bellies. The only way we courageously take a risk is when the thought of the desired outcome motivates us beyond the fear of possible failure.
Encourage and Be Encouraged by Searching for Potential
Jason was navigating camp in his own little world. Early in the week, we noticed Jason on the water slide, a make-shift slide made of plastic sheeting stretched out on a hillside and lubricated with a water hose and liquid soap. Jason’s short and round build enabled him to speed down the slide. We had an idea. We held a contest with counselors judging the speed, style, and form of the sliders. Of course, Jason consistently won the subjective judging. Athletic and popular kids put everything into their slides, and we tossed them some props, but Jason always beat everyone hands down with his speed and style.
When you are 8 years old it feels good to be the best at something for once in your life, even if it is just the way you slide down a plastic sheet. The more we cheered him the more he slid with abandon. With encouragement, Jason became the best and most entertaining slider.
Encourage and Be Encouraged by Celebrating Wins
I need lots of encouragement. Encouragement changes my perspective. If we want the people we love to soar, we must believe in them and cheer them on.
If we want the people we love to soar, we must believe in them and cheer them on.
At the end of the week we always had an awards ceremony, giving out trophies for sportsmanship, all-around camper, winning contests, etc. In the awards ceremony, with great fanfare, Jason received a little plastic gold-tone trophy and much acclaim for being the all-time best slider, an award we made up just for that one camp, because of Jason. Most likely, it was the only time Jason had ever won an award. It was probably the only time the focus was on him for achieving something. We could not control the rest of his life, but we could control this moment. Our encouragement had propelled Jason to be the most celebrated slider in Lake Placid Camp history to this day, in my mind.
Encourage and Be Encouraged by Connecting Outcomes to Things of Eternal Value
It wasn’t about the waterside, we built a relationship with Jason that week. We ate with him in the cafeteria, we gave him high-fives as he walked the camp. We prayed with him in the chapel services. I don’t know if we affected his life, but we tried. I don’t know what happened to him, I never saw him again. I’d like to think we sowed some seeds of encouragement in Jason that he was important, cared about, and that he could be good at something.
Jason would be almost 30 years old now. I wonder if, when the day came to toss the little plastic trophy, if he remembered the cheers and the big deal we made of him. I wonder if, as a young adult, he realized that camps don’t give out trophies for water sliding and that we were just loving him. I wonder if he has ever told his own children about the time he was the best water slider ever.
Encourage and Be Encouraged by Searching for “Amazing” Through Eyes of Love
Encouragement is a powerful tool when it’s genuine, authentic, and motivated by love. This wasn’t about “everyone wins,” this was about finding something to genuinely celebrate. We found something Jason did better than anyone else and we found a way to celebrate it. I know there is a lot more investment and effort in being a world-class musician than just being obese and going fast on a waterside, but we still ought to recognize the good in the people we care about. Even if the good in some people is not as amazing as the good in someone else, we all have the potential to be quite amazing. The really grand stuff in us gets called out when someone we respect encourages us. If we can win at one thing we can win at other things.
If we can win at one thing we can win at other things.
Had Jesus been at camp that week in body, I think he would have stood at the bottom of that water slide with a piece of cardboard from the dumpster marked with a bold “10” giving Jason smiles and high-fives. How do I know? Because Jesus has done the very same for me many, many times.
Following are some questions for small group discussion.
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- Who have been the great encouragers in your life? Name a few and the impact they had on you. How were you changed?
- How do you encourage yourself when you fear risk taking?
- If you’ve experienced a great loss in your life, how have you found the encouragement (courage) to risk again?
- Who in your life, that you care about, needs encouragement today? How will you encourage them today?
- Are their people in your life that if YOU don’t genuinely encourage them it isn’t likely to happen (i.e. your kids, your followers, your teammates, etc.)? How do you need to change your perspective to better invest in their lives?