Why to Share a Life Preserver When You Feel Like You're Drowning

I was 16-years-old, tall, thin, and attractive. But I had terrible self-esteem. I didn’t feel pretty, let alone beautiful. So, I searched for confirmation in the most unlikely of places—beauty pageants. One morning as I was getting ready to leave the house to head to the initial rounds of the Miss Tennessee pageant, I was met with a surprise. The door was covered with paper signs.

My little sister, who would have been about 11 at the time, had either stayed up late or gotten up very early to write notes on construction paper. She taped them all over the door where I couldn’t miss them. The messages said things like,

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, you are beautiful!”

“Win or lose, you’ll always be the best.”

“I love you.”

This was before the days of cell phones, when cameras needed batteries and film; so, I didn’t get a picture. I wish I had. The memories of that pageant, of that day, are sketchy at best. I know that I didn’t progress to the next round. But the memory of that door has stayed with me all these years.

Encouragement is a funny thing. It comes in all different packages. It can be free or carry a number of price tags. It is as individual as a fingerprint and as universal as a smile. It is something that we all need and we all can give. It can be a sincere compliment given at just the right moment or a joke that makes someone belly laugh. It can be a smile, a hug, a note, a word, a casserole, a cup of coffee, or a prayer. Sometimes it’s nothing more than sitting next to someone in silence. It is the gift of hope, confidence, support, courage. It is lending a hand, picking someone up, cheering someone on.

It is a sacred but sometimes forgotten gift. In a world where “we” is easily replaced by “me,” we all like to laud the thought of encouragement but often fail to put it into practice.

This year, I feel like I have been drowning in a sea of grief. At times, I feel OK. My life preserver is holding me up, and, if I close my eyes, I can imagine that I’m really just floating along in the middle of a cool pool on a hot summer day.  Then a wave hits and capsizes me, and once again I am fighting to breathe, dark murky waters filling my lungs and pulling me down. It’s exhausting, disorienting, and, sometimes, I just feel like giving up. But I am not alone.

All around me, there are people struggling.  Some people, like me, are dealing with sorrow, but others are weighed down by anchors of everyday life—marital disputes, rebellious children, financial problems, aging parents, serious illnesses. We all feel like we are drowning at times or barely staying afloat at others.

I could write about God’s love and mercy and grace and all those very real and good things, but there is another way God reaches out to us during these tough times. It’s through the encouragement that comes from others. When we encourage others, God is giving us the opportunity to be His hands, His feet, His arms, His heart, His physical presence to someone in need.

Today is my little sister’s birthday—that same little sister who so many years ago boosted my confidence and made me smile—has grown up to be a Godly woman who has continued to bless me and so many others her entire life. She is a very good encourager. Thinking about her today has reminded me of all the times and ways she has brought comfort and strength and hope and courage into my life. But it’s also helped me to remember how important it is to pass it on.

A door of love still makes a difference in my life thirty-something years later.  

That’s how encouragement works. A little goes a long way, and it’s meant to be shared. Even though I am down, tired, and worn out from the fight, God doesn’t want me to be consumed with myself. God has given me the resources to help someone else, to throw her a life preserver. And, you know what? He promises that when I do, we will both get to share the ride.  

What is one way someone has encouraged you recently?

Need a few ideas on how to be an encouragement to someone. Download “15 Free Ways to Encourage Someone Today”.