I really like the ACW.
I like that there's an organisation that is there to bring together Christian writers, whether they're writers who are Christians, or those who produce Christian material. I have learned so much, laughed often and made some really good friends, and even met some of them, though knowing each other in real, three-dimensional life isn't a pre-requisite for real connection and trust.
It's a thoroughly encouraging place to be.
Encouragement means to inspire with courage, spirit or confidence – to help someone needing courage to find some. You can do it. I believe in you.
It means to stimulate by assistance, approval – to boost someone, to give them something that they can use to find more inside themselves. To let them know that you’re on their side, that you’re cheering for them. To lift someone up, to take them higher, to remind them of how far they’ve come, how well they’re doing. To embolden, hearten, reassure, urge, support, help.
Aren’t they wonderful words? And don't we love words, in this neck of the woods?
Words are endlessly powerful, and a personal word of encouragement in the right place can have a huge effect.
It can make the difference between someone giving up or carrying on. The difference between winning and losing, hoping and despairing.
Something you say might be just the confirmation someone needs to make a decision, or try something new, or make a change. It could simply make them feel a little better.
Encouragement comes in all shapes and sizes, and we shouldn’t dismiss the things that seem insignificant. Something that seems quite small can be quite powerful in God’s hands.
A while ago I was walking up the road behind a lady. It was one of those awkward situations where you find yourself walking at just the same speed as someone in front and so it looks a bit as if you’re a stalker. You have this dilemma - do you speed up and overtake, thus having to continue to walk at a faster than normal pace all the way up a straight road, or do you hang back and dawdle, only to catch up again… or maybe that sort of thing only happens to me.
Anyway, I was walking behind this lady, and I admired her haircut. Have you ever done that? You stand in a queue at the post office, and think how nice someone looks, or you're in church and you realise that the person in front has a beautiful singing voice? You never say anything for fear of being thought odd or invading personal space. Well, I was walking up the road staring at this lady’s hair, and it came into my head that on this occasion I should tell her how nice it looked.
Cue: startled internal dialogue.
If she turns right up Quarry Lane, I won't say anything.
If she turns right up Vincent Crescent, I won't say anything.
Clearly action was required. How hard could it be?
So, as we approached my turn, I took a deep breath, drew alongside and said to her, ‘This might sound a bit silly, but I’ve been walking up the road behind you, and I’ve been thinking how nice your hair looks.’
I smiled at her apologetically and made to scurry off, but she stopped me.
‘Do you really think so? Oh, thank you so much. I’ve just had it done at a different hairdresser, and I wasn’t too sure if it suited me. I’ve been worrying. I don’t think my daughter will like it. She liked it how it was, but I fancied a change. Thank you so much.’
It made a difference to her. I don’t kid myself that I did anything profound, but I believe that God nudged me to tell that lady that she had nice hair. He knew she was feeling anxious and insecure and through my words He helped her with that. She walked off a little straighter.
I hope it helped her face her daughter with a bit of confidence, but even if her daughter didn’t like it, at least she knew that there was a strange woman stalker who did.
God is in the business of encouraging. He cares about details like angst over haircuts, and He cares about the big whopping life choices that won't grow out in four weeks. He doesn’t want us to be closed off solitary individuals struggling alone in a crowd with our own neuroses and problems. He never meant it to be that way. He told us that we’re family, and we should be caring for one another. Helping each other with battles. Cheering for each other.
Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
Small encouragements are all about the pleasure of being noticed, thought about. Someone cared enough to consider me. We all long to be approved of, affirmed.
There are big things, too. Just now and again we get an opportunity to speak powerful words into a person’s life, even if we might never know that that’s what we did. I think that God often gives opportunities to speak words that find a home deep inside someone’s heart.
A few people did this for me: they spoke into the dreams that I have for my life, and I have never forgotten their words. When I was nine, a teacher at junior school wrote in my autograph book,
‘To the Daphne Du Maurier of tomorrow: keep on writing!’
There are people in the ACW too who have no idea how precious their words have been to me. I have filed things away in my heart and they comfort and motivate and inspire me. These encouragements keep me going when the little voices in my head tell me that I can't do it; I should just give up and open a packet of custard creams.
It's a raw thing to reveal your dream to someone, and finding a safe place of encouragement is precious. Dreams can be fragile. I confided this same writing dream to a girl in school when I was about fifteen. She laughed mockingly, saying, ‘Dream on, Helen.’ It hurt, but that's exactly what I did. I dreamed on. Because on that occasion the positive words of my teacher were more powerful than her bitter ones. Without that specific encouragement like a stake holding steady a vulnerable sapling, she might have flattened my dream.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Someone believed in me. Some days I feel able to take on the world, others completely defeated, but those words stay solid for me. When my teacher wrote that lovely line in my autograph book, I bet he had no idea of the impact it would have. When I finally publish my bestseller, I shall send him a signed copy.
Best get on with it, then.
So here's the thing: we have no way of knowing what God might do in the future to join up the dots and make our innocuous comment into something huge and powerful for someone. The thing we say, the little tiny dot that we add – might be just one in a long chain that God is adding to a person’s life that will one day join up and become something amazing.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Someone once said that we are like buckets and life punches holes all over and our self-esteem pours out of the holes. When we encourage each other, we fix some of those holes, and we refill a little of the self-esteem that leaked out.
I think we’re doing a vital part of God’s work in encouraging each other. Encouragement is listed by St Paul in Romans 12 as one of the separate gifts in the Body of Christ. Maybe it’s true that some people have a particular ability to encourage, but I think there can be no doubt that each one of us is able to do it. It's what God told us to do.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.
Having spent time as a researcher, church worker, OT and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel.
As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and has more Aloe Vera plants than you can shake a stick at.
You can also find her here: