Real encouragement is much more than mere positivity. It is grounded in what is real. Sometimes that means helping us embrace what “good” looks like in a new normal.
There are life events and circumstances that change our entire trajectory. Whatever our direction and goals were before, suddenly they must necessarily change. It could be a diagnosis we did not see coming, or some other physical condition that changes everything. Or it could be the loss of a job, or an unforeseen relocation in a job. Or perhaps the sudden loss of a loved one or some other circumstance of tremendous grief. It happens. There are things that cause us to weep and process and come to grips with the fact that this changes everything.
These are times when we fall into whatever safety net we have in place around us in the form of important relationships. It may be family or it may be close friends. Either way, we all need relationships in our lives on which we can rely when we need a word of encouragement just to make it through the day. And, in game-changing circumstances such as I am describing here, that encouragement must be more than just “rainbows and unicorns”; it must be real. We don’t need a lecture about positive thinking. We need someone to help us gain a vision of what really can be.
There’s a story in the Bible about the people of Israel being defeated by the neighboring Babylonians and taken into exile back in Babylon.For those exiled, this was one of those life-altering circumstances. They were gathered up and involuntarily marched out of their homes, out of their country, and into a whole new life. At a time when they were searching for some sliver of hope that, somehow, they could return to their homes and carry on with their lives, God sent them an interesting word through one of their prophets, Jeremiah:
“Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away. Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” Jeremiah 29:5-7 (Message)
In other words, “This is your new normal, your new life…quit looking back and make it work.” It was coupled with an encouraging word of hope for the next generation, but for this generation, this was the best it was going to get. In this encouragement, there was no false hope, and there was no hint of a “prosperity gospel” encouraging them to have faith and pray, so that God would change these circumstances for them. There were no such promises, not in this lifetime. Rather, God’s encouragement to them was very much “bloom where you’re planted”. Figure it out. Make the best of it. It was the truth, and there is no more important element of genuine encouragement than truth.
When we find ourselves in a new normal, we should surround ourselves with truth-speakers who will help us catch a vision of what really could be under these circumstances. And when those we love find themselves in such a circumstance, we should be truth speakers. Because that is what real encouragement looks like.