“Be an encourager, the world has enough critics already.”

Yesterday, I received a card from my mother in the mail. No special occasion… just a “thinking of you” card titled The Love of Jesus Shines Through You. In it, she said things like “I just wanted to remind you how proud I am of you” and “keeping you close in prayer” and “thank you for all you do to shine for Him.” My love language is, primarily, words of affirmation- so this filled my cup to overflowing! How thoughtful and life-giving.

Then… earlier today, I was at a lunch seminar with hundreds of other pastors and people in helping professions in our city. One of the speakers before the “featured” speaker talked very briefly about something that needs to be talked about more regularly… encouraging the encourager. We all have people in our lives that consistently encourage us or are somehow involved in our holistic growth and health. And let’s face it, we don’t do a very good job of expressing our thanks, gratitude, and offering words of life to them. 

The speaker at the event talked about how the word “encourage” is used only two times in the story of the Israelites wondering through the wilderness after their dramatic escape from slavery in Egypt. Both times the word was used, it came from Moses, their leader, to them. Despite their grumbling, complaining, and disrespect… Moses offers words of inspiration and motivation from God. He perseveres. Not once was he encouraged.

He talked about how the night before Jesus gave his life through immense punishment, torture, humiliation, and a criminal’s death in order to save the eternal destiny of the souls of the whole world… he invited his best friends to have dinner with him. John’s account tells us that along with supper, and the promises he communicates through communion, he served his brothers by taking the role of a servant, and washing their dirty feet as an act of love and respect. He encourages them, and instead of receiving gratitude and words of life, support, and confidence in return, Jesus is betrayed by one and denied by another.

The word “encourage” comes from the French word encourager (on-core-ah-jay), from en– ‘in’ + corage ‘courage.’ The word literally means to insert courage into a thing.

Who are the professional encouragers, teachers, counselors, pastors, medical professionals, police officers, and soldiers in your life?

These individuals expend an enormous amount of time and energy (emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually) to help bring hope, healing, and safety to the lives of millions of broken and hurting people in our nation, and in this world; they are often unpaid or underpaid for their work; they sacrifice their lives in various ways to walk with people through their tragedy and trauma; and are also, often, the recipients of verbal abuse, name-calling, harsh criticism, psychological manipulation, and displaced blame.

There are several psychological defense mechanisms that our minds generate as a way to protect ourselves from further emotional and mental damage. Without proper self-awareness, and often unconsciously, people use their pastor, nurse or counselor as a “punching bag” or the target of their grief, anger, and pain. These behaviors naturally push people they are in relationship with, away. So, the professional helper attempts to “stay” and work to help the patient learn strategies to deal with these issues and confront the pain whether through different avenues such as: medical treatment, education, psychological interventions, therapy, or scriptural teaching.

Because the patient, client, or congregant uses these mechanisms, the underlying pain and hurt are not appropriately dealt with and healed. Instead, their same cycles of negative behaviors, relationship and communication struggles, and addictions resurface… and they end up feeling “hurt” or “rejected” by the helper in their life because of this.

“I put all my hope in you bringing me full healing, fulfillment, and change. You failed me.”

Here are some examples (from the work of John M. Grohol, Psy.D.) of defense mechanisms that, left unchecked, can end up harming those who have dedicated their lives to helping you to heal:

1. Acting Out

Acting Out is performing an extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing. Instead of saying, “I’m angry with you,” a person who acts out may instead throw a book at the person, or punch a hole through a wall. When a person acts out, it can act as a pressure release, and often helps the individual feel calmer and peaceful once again. For instance, a child’s temper tantrum is a form of acting out when he or she doesn’t get his or her way with a parent.

2. Projection

Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry at their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings.

3. Displacement

Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts feelings and impulses directed at one person or object, but taken out upon another person or object. People often use displacement when they cannot express their feelings in a safe manner to the person they are directed at. The classic example is the man who gets angry at his boss, but can’t express his anger to his boss for fear of being fired. He instead comes home and kicks the dog or starts an argument with his wife. The man is redirecting his anger from his boss to his dog or wife. Naturally, this is a pretty ineffective defense mechanism, because while the anger finds a route for expression, it’s misapplication to other harmless people or objects will cause additional problems for most people.

Patients and clients of professionals that regularly employ these types of defenses seem to fail, at times, to see their counselor, teacher, or pastor as a person persons with their own debt, bills, struggles, conflicts, stressors, and family drama. They can get easily ensnared in the lie that these helping professionals are a substitute, stand-in, or proxy for the the power of God, and work that they should be doing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and/or for the ownership that they should be taking over a lack of growth or healing in their lives.

You and/or your children’s teachers, doctors, therapists, or pastors are not responsible for your change. They aren’t and cannot be your Savior. Their job is to point you to a relationship with The Healer, and to help you to learn how to identify and manage your stress, anxiety, or pain independently; to help create space for you to share your burdens, shame, guilt, and fears without judgement or condemnation; to share wisdom and advice that will encourage you and renew your hope; and to offer strategies and tools for you to put to use for continued success in the future. But, they are not genies, magicians, or wizards and, tools don’t work unless we use them.

There is no substitute for the work of Jesus on the cross. There is no replacement for the power of the Holy Spirit. But, often we can be blinded, discouraged, get off track, and need to be re-routed back into the knowledge and understanding of these truths.

Jesus paid it all for our sin, pain, shame, hurt, trauma, and sadness.

“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor 5:21).

Who are the professional encouragers, teachers, counselors, pastors, medical professionals, police officers, and soldiers in your life?

What can you do this week to offer a word of encouragement to them? It could be as simple as a text, a card, a compliment, a small gift, a hug, or some act of kindness.