Let's imagine that you and I run into each other at some random everyday location. You can pick it. The waiting area of the auto shop, the departure gate of the airport, or the cereal aisle at the grocery store— where I begin our conversation by telling you the box of Apple Jacks in the cart is for my kids. We've only just met, and already our entire relationship is based on a lie.
In the course of our conversation I ask you how life is going and you give the instinctual response of "Fine," or "Pretty good," or "Can't complain." But I know that's not completely true. There are some things happening in your life that are difficult. Some things you would change if you could. I understand that you don't mention those things because it's not socially acceptable to respond to "How ya doing?" with an honest answer about your pain, struggles, and challenges.
But since this conversation isn't real and we are only imagining, let's imagine that it isn't culturally unacceptable and I really do want to know how you are doing. How would you respond? Instead of asking "How ya doing?" what if I asked "If there's one thing you would change in your life, what would it be?" I asked a few thousand people on social media this question and got all kinds of responses.
Their grade school–age child is losing the battle with cancer.
They're angry with God.
They've been married less than two years.
They're ready to call it quits.
She's been sick for too long, and the doctors have no idea why.
They love their special needs child, and they're also overwhelmed and discouraged.
Another dud pregnancy test.
Another screaming tantrum directed at the kids.
Another game spent sitting on the bench.
Another visit to the website he knows he must avoid.
She feels invisible to her husband and kids.
His aging father won't accept Christ.
She sees a future of unending debt.
He can't climb out of depression.
She can't climb out of unemployment.
He's certain no one will ever love him.
I could keep going, but you don't need me to. Chances are you've got your own story. A struggle that is just as real, just as glaring, as any of these. Whatever your story, my words of encouragement to you would probably be the same. They are the same words I need to hear on a regular basis. Don't Give Up.
I could package it differently: Keep going. Don't stop. Hang on. Hold fast. Stand firm.
Hallmark has likely done a few hundred more variations on the theme, with the glossy sunrise and lighthouse images to go with them. Why? Because the need for these simple words of encouragement is universal.
Don't give up. Those three words offer more than comfort; they offer courage.
Someone who is dealing with grief needs to hear it differently than someone who is struggling with guilt.
Someone who is walking out needs to hear it differently than someone who is being walked out on.
Someone who is angry needs to hear it differently than someone who is addicted.
Someone who is scared needs to hear it differently than someone who is sick.
Someone who is desperate needs to hear it differently than someone who is indifferent.
As a pastor I've discovered that some variation of "Don't give up" is the message most people need to hear, although I have found that my tone isn't always the same.
Sometimes I say it with a kind of gentle tone. Let's call it the Mister Rogers approach. Sometimes struggling people need to be comforted. That means a warm smile, a soft voice, and an awesome sweater jacket like Mister Rogers wore.
This kind of encouragement to not give up usually includes pats on the back and statements such as:
I'm so sorry for what you're going through.
You've been through so much.
I don't know how you've kept going.
It's not fair, and it's not your fault.
Things are going to work out. You'll see.
People like to hear things like that. In fact, if you picked up this book because its title is Don't Give Up, then chances are these are the things you want me to say to you. But here's what I've realized. Sometimes, when we feel like giving up, what we want is Mister Rogers to come knock on our door— but what we need is William Wallace. Who is
William Wallace? You saw Braveheart, right? That's his story, and I don't remember him wearing any sky-blue sweater jackets or white tennis shoes. He's not a hug-it-out guy, telling you to cheer up. No, this guy paints his face like a hardcore football fan. He grabs you by the shoulder, and he says—even growls—stuff like this:
This is not the time to give up and go home!
It's time to fight!
Don't you dare back down!
You're tired. You're discouraged. But don't give up!
When we're right on the edge of quitting, when we're beaten down, when we feel utterly overwhelmed, comfort may sustain us but courage is often what we need to move forward. It gets us taking back the ground we've lost in the battle.
Let's call it by another name: encouragement. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines encouragement as "The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope," which is pretty much what we think it means. Until we get to the secondary definition: "Persuasion to do or to continue something."
That second one has verbs. Now we're getting somewhere.
Encouragement is a battle cry. It's a call to move, to act, to advance. What kind of words accomplish that? To encourage means, of course, to give courage—to "speak courage into." That's not the same as making someone feel better. It's not patching up a wound but rather putting a weapon in their hands. It's giving them a fresh horse and the will to advance.
I don't know which one you need. The blue sweater guy or the blue face guy. Probably a little bit of both. But I've discovered that many of us have some voices of comfort in our lives yet what we really need is a voice of courage. We may feel the need for sympathy when what we really need is strength.
This is an excerpt from Don't Give Up: Faith That Gives You The Confidence To Keep Believing And The Courage To Keep Going, the new book from Kyle Idleman, published by Baker Books priced £9.99. Printed with Permission.