It is easy to say something pleasant and positive to someone. A "Have a good day!" to your cashier at the grocery store, an "It's okay," or a "Feel better!" to a friend, an "I love you and I'm proud of you," to a child, an "I miss you," to a lover. These pleasantries are kind, and they most definitely have their place. But, they only go so far. They are what I like to call "Hallmark Responses," and they often begin when we aren't sure what to say to someone.
How do we ever find the right words to say?
First, we must be willing to find out what they are feeling. What's the nature of their emotion? Are they nervous about a new job? Are they suffering through a breakup? Are they excited over their recent engagement? Are they stressed about illness or schoolwork? The key to finding sincere words lies in empathy and compassion for the person to which you are speaking. In other words, you must put yourself in their shoes!
Now, you may find yourself struggling to even find where the shoes are kept, much less fit them onto your feet. Genuinely loving a person and feeling compassion for them can prove to be quite difficult without seeking help from the Lord, the Sole Example of perfect love. This goes for anyone from a boyfriend or girlfriend all the way to that cashier at the store. Loving people requires looking to the Example, asking for His grace to come upon you, and recognizing His love for those you are trying to love. As a personal testimony, it is only by the grace of my God that I can love anyone. (This fact doesn't make me a terrible person, but it does express the vast and powerful love of God!)
But, I digress. Let's return to my original thought, about the Hallmark Responses. How can we obliterate these from our vocabulary, and respond with complete genuity?
It can take some serious effort to actually remove focus from self and place it on another human. For the sake of this post, we will call that human, whoever it might be for you, Jen. We must imagine life from Jen's perspective. Imagine yourself as Jen. Dwell on the circumstances Jen is in, and envision yourself experiencing what Jen is experiencing. Now, think of what encouragements you may like to hear if you are Jen; would it help to have someone remind you of your worth in Jesus, or point out your strong suits, or turn you to Christ as your source of help and peace? Consider the times in your life when a loved one (or even complete stranger) has listened to your pains and then spoken Truth into your life!
If you feel confident, ask Jen questions about what's going on.
"How are you feeling about it?"
"Have you talked to ____________ about this?"
"How long has your shift been? You must be tired."
I think you get my point. Asking specific questions, when appropriate, can easily let Jen know that you are interested in her life, you care about her feelings and thoughts, and you value her as a person. When you ask these questions, be sure to take the time and energy to listen to Jen. Make clear with your body language that you are listening intently to her. Put down the phone, look Jen in the eye, and respond when necessary with more than just a "yeah" or "I'll bet".
We must also be realistic with Jen. If you don't know that everything will be okay, why would you tell Jen that? Realistic words seem harsh and uncomfortable so we typically avoid them. We don't like to seem negative. However, the truth is that in the Church we need some realistic encouragement. We must stop using Hallmark responses in attempts to console loved ones, and instead share truth from the Word of God. For example, If a Jen in your life shares that they have anxiety about a decision they must make, take the time to look up scripture with Jen (this is where scripture memory comes in handy!). Pray for Jen, but also pray WITH Jen. Take the time right then and there to pray. Take Jen's hand and give her situation to the Lord.
This leads me into the next point I'd like to make. I fall short when it comes to praying for loved ones. I am a professional at telling someone I will be praying for them, and a complete rookie at actually doing it. We must not only encourage the person with the words, "I will be praying for you!" but then have the integrity to actually do it.
Think of it this way: Imagine that each time you prayed for someone, they received a text or email that you had prayed for them and what the prayer was regarding. You would be much more mindful of the times you told someone you'd pray for them, and you'd be much more mindful to actually pray for them. We often put continual prayer for others on the backburner because in the back of our minds, we know that they'll never know for sure whether we do it or not. This is not the point. The point of prayer is acknowledgement of His power to provide, as well as it is an act of submission and trust. If we truly love Jen, why aren't we giving her problems to the Lord just as we give our own problems to Him?
It's also important to follow up with Jen later on if you can. Use your discretion, but wait a couple days or weeks depending on the situation and the Jen. Then, ask them how they are doing.
"How are things going with ____________?"
"Have you learned anything since __________?"
"Have you gotten your results back yet?"
"What has the Lord been teaching you regarding ________?"
This not only shows Jen that you listened, but you remembered what she had told you about. If not before, Jen definitely feels valued now. Even if her circumstances have not improved, Jen may feel a sense of peace and joy knowing she is valued and can trust in you to listen.
The beautiful thing about listening to and encouraging others is that the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. As you listen to someone, you learn more about them. As you learn more about them, you figure out better ways to encourage them. Then the encouragement is of higher quality, and the beautiful cycle continues on.
To conclude all of this, I must remind you that we will never do this perfectly. We are still selfish, sinful creatures, often looking after our own desires. Any goodness in me has come from God. Any ability to love and encourage my loved ones has come from God. He is the perfect Encourager and Listener, and no creature on earth could compete with Him. The good news is, we are forgiven when we fall short and there is grace for us, that we might carry on and try again!
Don't fall into the habit of using Hallmark responses. Make an effort to be intentional with each soul you encounter. I hope this encourages you to grow in your relationships with Jesus and the people around you!