Carolyn Owen-Towle writes in her chapter on the third principle in the book, With Purpose and Principle:
“The word ‘encourage’ literally means to put courage or heart into another. All of us need reassuring as we face the travails of life. Sometimes that lift comes in the form of a hug or supportive comment. It might be heard in a sermon, a piece of music, or a poem. At other times it comes as a nudge to get going, to turn around, or to buck up. Whatever it is, when it comes from someone with whom we share a common quest for spiritual growth, it helps.” P.50
Owen-Towle writes a bit further:
“How am I to encourage others? What have I got to share? Think of yourself as a mirror reflecting someone’s image back to them. What do you see in them that you can affirm? Look again. It may not be apparent at first. When you notice a strength, an accomplishment, an insight – tell them, as accurately as you can. That way they will know you are being authentic, and they can accept what you have given them. We cannot run around encouraging people all the time. But neither should we miss an opportunity when we see it.” P.50
When a person reaches the 5th and certainly the 6th stage of faith development, he or she realizes that we are all one and that what one does for a brother or a sister one does for oneself. It is like singing in a chorus or telling a joke, our joy is magnified when we resonate with another. Scientific studies have shown that acts as simple as holding a person’s hand on a hospital visit promotes and enhances healing and recovery. Encouragement can be as simple as listening and paying attention with undivided focus to another person if they desire that kind of attention.
One of the definitions of love that I have become aware of as a psychotherapist, and a human being, is to care as much about another person’s growth and development as you do your own. This caring requires that you understand the other person’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations as well as his or her talents, abilities, and preferences. It also requires an awareness of the person’s deficits, problems, stressors, and discouragements.
To be a good encourager we need to be a non-anxious presence in the face of other people’s pain and suffering. This takes a tremendous amount of courage, discipline, and patience. A willingness to “be there” for another person especially in times of difficulty and suffering is one of the most important ministries a member of a congregation can engage in in their church as well as in their life.
Applying the third principle of acceptance and encouragement is not Pollyannaish psychobabble, but the guts of Unitarian Universalist faith and practice as we work towards the At-one-ment when everybody loves everybody all the time.