Cheers: The vital role of encouragement in our faith life

Julie Raffety writes about the value of encouragement in our lives, especially in matters of faith.

Photo by Capstone Events on Unsplash

Our feet bounced off the warm blacktop road, a metronome of rubber and fabric. Rounding the corner and running up a modest hill, my twin sister and I were surprised by an older man standing on his driveway clapping for us. “I’m so proud of you girls!” he yelled. We’d never seen him before, but we laughed, smiled at each other, and kept on running. We still talk about that moment years later. In a world where it seems it is so much more likely that someone will offer you criticism, the cheerleaders stand out. And we really need them, especially in our faith lives.

The best faith cheerleaders know how to cheer us on, even when we don’t know what we need. Every Timothy needs a Paul. In my first call, I can remember going into every meeting with our lead pastor asking him how I could improve. I only got more frustrated, time after time, when he told me he really couldn’t think of anything. I was getting so much criticism from the rest of the congregation that I found it unbelievable that he would have nothing to offer me. Looking back on my experience as a brand new pastor, I have no doubt that this gifted and compassionate pastor had plenty of criticism to send my way. But I think he knew that what I needed more than his critiques was his encouragement. So he made the decision to send only positive comments and thoughts my way. Even when I was discouraged by others, I could rely on his praise. We all need that one friend or colleague who always manages to be in our corner in a positive way, even when our corner is the wrong one.

Every Timothy needs a Paul.

The best faith cheerleaders remember us with gratitude (Philippians 1:3) and rejoice whenever our paths cross again. I was recently in a Presbyterian Foundation meeting about insurance (I know … sounds like a ton of fun, right), but I’m glad I attended. I had the joy of seeing three friends and mentors from my past on Zoom. And each one of them made a point of connecting, even briefly, with me. I wondered if one of them would remember me; sometimes someone makes a big impact on our life in a short period of time, but we wonder if they feel the same. It was such a joy to remember our time together, and “see” one another once more.

The best faith cheerleaders know when to jump in and run the race with us. In my experience, when you get to the final miles of a marathon, words and clever signs are meaningful, but sometimes we need something more. In the 1992 Olympics, British runner Derek Redmond pulled his hamstring as he raced in the 400 meters. His father, Jim Redmond, rushed to his son’s side and they finished the race together. Jim Redmond was not fit to run that race, but Derek needed him. It wasn’t enough at that moment for him to yell encouragement from the stands; he needed to physically help his son accomplish his Olympic dream. Our greatest cheerleaders in life and faith know us well enough to know when we are spiritually defeated and in need of support. They know when to lift us up and come alongside us to help us accomplish something that has become too much for us. It’s not the kind of cheerleading that seems so cheery, but joy so often makes a way even in difficulty and sadness. So often, it is our faith cheerleaders who lead us and guide us through those times.

Life goes on, seasons change, and our circumstances do too. The method of encouragement or cheerleading may be different over time, but I think we all need cheerleaders, especially in our spiritual lives. We need someone who offers us praise, someone who remembers us and rejoices in our work, someone who will help us when the going gets tough. Perhaps we can be this person for others, too.

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