“Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play; Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
Dr. Brewster Higley, 1873 Smith County, Kansas
Cloudless skies. Congenial surroundings. No discouraging words. How lovely.
Poor Dr. Brewster had endured his share of heartbreak. His first three wives had each died from injury or illness. His fourth marriage, to the widow Mrs. Mercy McPherson, was by all accounts an unhappy union. So unhappy, in fact, that he fled to Kansas, leaving his wife behind. Taking advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862, he settled on the banks of West Beaver Creek. It was there that he wrote the poem “My Western Home” to express his pleasure at the place he had chosen for his homestead.
I get the impression that Dr. Brewster had heard his share of discouraging words. Critical patients? A shrewish wife? Whoever it was, he seems to have escaped their biting tongue out in the isolated place he called home.
Living in seclusion seems to be a way to escape discouraging, critical words. But living as a recluse is not practical or appropriate. We are called in live in community. This makes it difficult to completely avoid discouraging words, but perhaps we can do better than a bunker mentality. Why not take an offensive stance and cultivate the habit of affirming others?
At my church we have what we call Encouragement Cards. It is a postcard that says: I appreciate you for…… followed by a large space to write in a message of encouragement. These cards are addressed, stamped, and mailed out by the church secretary. I have been on both the sending and receiving end of these cards and either side is gratifying. I have also received lovely notes from friends that are written with the expressed intent of giving me encouragement. I am so thankful that encouragement is one of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives the Church.
I have a friend who has the gift of encouragement. Her upbeat, sunny nature always helps me to see the positive side of any situation. She invariably lifts my spirits. But even more, she tells me she sees and values the gifts God has given me. Encouraging words! I am motivated to press on.
On the other hand, like you, I have also been the recipient of discouraging words and have struggled with the appropriate response. For me, the difficult truth is that sometimes we are called to just absorb the pain, in the same way that Christ absorbed God’s wrath as He hung on the cross. Our response is to be one that demonstrates the gracious and quiet spirit which God is building in us. Our challenge is to weed out the thorny, critical words, while at the same time looking for jewels of truth that may be embedded in the critique.
Sometimes we long for escape from the discouraging words we are dealt. A cabin out on the plains. Watching the deer and antelope frolicking in the yard. Peace and quiet. Tempting, but don’t do it! Be an imitator of God and go on the offensive:
He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11