Updated: Feb 26, 2021
"Situations change when we change".
The astonishing power of words of encouragement. How to explain their impact on our lives? Aren’t words fleeting and immaterial? True, there are words that change everything - we call them performative, as when the judge pronounces a verdict at the end of a trial. If the judge says ‘Guilty’ I spend my life in prison. If she says ‘Acquitted’ I walk free. But when I say to a friend ‘Be strong’ or ‘Take heart’, I am not speaking from a position of authority, I am not changing reality. If my friend has just been made redundant, my words of encouragement will not give the job back to her. If my friend has been left by his partner my words will not restore the relationship. So words of encouragement are powerless and yet also effective somehow. Otherwise I would not hunger for them whenever I am low, discouraged, and in distress. I look for a family member, a friend, a colleague willing to give ears to my sorrow and my concern and speak to my heart. Or I turn to Scripture and hear the Psalm say “Be strong and take heart all you hope in the Lord” (Psa 31.24) or Jesus who assures me that “In the world you will have tribulations. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16.33). I read these words, repeat them to myself - my situation seems the same, and yet I discover that all has changed because I have changed, I see things differently, my motivation has received an unexpected boost.
And we change thanks to the encouragement we receive and we give. This is the most valuable gift we can grant to each other in these most uncertain times. Social distancing does not mean ‘heart distancing’. Our words can reach out to others more freely than ever thanks to the extraordinary abundance of our social media. In no previous quarentene in history have people been able to remain so close while being safely separated from each other. This community is not virtual but real if our messages, our videos, our posts become the channel of our care for each other. Our incredibly brave doctors and nurses fight the Coronavirus in hospitals and wards. We too can fight dejection, gloom, loneliness, and boredom by reaching out to each other with our words of encouragement and hope. Because if our heart changes, everything changes with it.