Butt Prints or Footprints–You Decide

“So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“You can’t leave footprints in the sands of time if you’re sitting on your butt. And who wants to leave butt prints in the sands of time?”—Unknown

This was the opening quote in a handmade book of quotes that my dear friend, Annette, gave my boys this past weekend. It was a truly awesome gift of encouragement, perfectly suited to her cheerful disposition and life-affirming personality. As we read through the inspirational but hilarious quotes, we smiled and laughed and thought of her and her family.

I am a big fan of encouragement. Even when our lives are chugging along rather smoothly, daily living can suck the joy right out of us. Stressful jobs, busy schedules, cranky kids, household responsibilities and bills can make us feel as if life is nothing but a grind. And then there are the times when the real storms come, when the doctor gives the diagnosis, when the company makes cutbacks, when our teenagers rebel. Let’s face it. Life is, in one way or another, hard.

That’s why we need encouragement. Encouragement is “the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.” It is helping someone else persevere, presumably under difficult circumstances. It’s something we all need, and it’s something we can all give.

When I was in high school, I suffered from depression and a very low self-esteem. In an effort to feel better about myself, I signed up for beauty pageants. I will never forget one particular pageant. I had to leave very early in the morning to head to Nashville for a day full of interviews, practices, and primping. As I hurried down the stairs from my room, I was met with a wonderful gift. My younger sister, Nancy, had covered the door with construction paper notes filled with encouraging words like “You are beautiful!” “I love you.” “No matter what anyone says, you’re a winner to me!” Thirty-something years later, I still remember those words, and even more importantly, I remember how they made me feel.

Years later, as the married mother of very small but very temperamental young boys, I remember receiving a letter from her. I still have it folded up in a special place. In it, she told me a story about the building of cathedrals, how it is a time-consuming multi-generational process, how the workers often die without seeing the completed project, but how they pour their lives into the building anyway, with faith that what they can’t yet see will one day be complete and beautiful. She told me that a mother’s job is sometimes like that. She encouraged me to believe that the work I was doing was contributing the beauty of my boys’ lives, even when I couldn’t see it. Nancy is a good encourager. But, I am blessed to have many good encouragers in my life.

Encouragement is when a father drives an hour to mow the lawn for a son-in-law when his job is taking him away from home. It’s when a mother leaves home in the middle of the night to pick up her love-sick daughter from college. It’s a sister who is never too busy to take a call and listen. It’s a good friend from college who brings funny videos for our sons to watch and shares his life lessons with them. But encouragement isn’t just for those we know and love.

Once, I was shopping in Kroger. I didn’t have my boys with me that day, which was unusual in itself. I don’t remember why. But I do remember feeling tired and ugly, very ugly. Life then was busy with four sons. I didn’t have a lot of time to “doll” up. So, I was extremely surprised when a woman stopped me in one of the aisles. She smiled and said, “I love your green headband. It is so pretty and matches your shirt perfectly.” And with those words, she lifted my spirits. She made me feel not quite so frumpy, somehow a little more beautiful. Is it silly that a stranger’s words could make such a difference? Maybe, but they did. And it’s something we all need to remember.

Encouragement can be life-changing, and it really doesn’t take much—just a little thought and a little effort. There is a meme that circulates on social media. It says something to the effect of “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about.” It’s so true.

Once I paid a couple of dollars on someone’s bill in front of me at the cash register. She was a little short, and I covered it. I didn’t think much of it until I walked out to my car. She had started towards her vehicle and then came back to me in tears. She gave me a big hug and thanked me. Turns out she had lost her job that day. In all, it had been a pretty rough week for her. She told me that she felt my small act of kindness was God’s way of telling her everything was going to be OK. And, to think, I was just trying to get through the check-out line a little quicker.

Do you want to be used by God? Do you want to be His hands and feet? It’s a lot easier than you might think. Encourage each other. Build each other up. Take a look around you; watch the people that you know and the people that you don’t know. Love enough to say something kind, to show up when needed, to bring a meal, to clean a house, to give a hug, to send a card (or text), or to hold a hand. Don’t be silent. Don’t feign ignorance. Don’t be complacent. Listen. Smile. Hug. Care. Like my friend, Annette, would say, “Get your butt out of the sand and do something!” Be an encouragement today.

Tell me about a time when you were encouraged!