I was rushing around my newly purchased home about a month after moving in, getting ready to have a group of women from church over. My home wasn’t the only new part of my life. We were in a new state, new city, new church and had just purchased our home after five months in a rental. It was a quirky little house. We bought it from a kind, older couple who also happened to be hoarders. Their rooms and rooms of old newspapers, southwestern artwork, and broken kitchen appliances from the 80’s all became part of the package. I had spent weeks packing up boxes of their things, painting over walls that were various shades of papaya, and taking down animal heads that had been left hanging in the living room.
Javelina heads cleared out, chairs set, and cookies baked, I eagerly welcomed my friends inside that evening. They were all excited to see the new place and I proudly walked them through each room.
“Why is the kitchen so small? I could never have a kitchen this small!”
“That’s a terrible place for the laundry.”
“Oh no, no, no this can’t be your homeschool room, there are too many windows!”
“Hmmmm, you really like white and gray…”
My heart sank as the critiques continued. The pride and excitement I had felt turned into embarrassment and self-doubt. Did I even know how to set up a home? Had we made a terrible mistake purchasing this house in such a crazy market? What else about me did they disapprove of?
I sat in that room as conversation shifted away from my house and felt myself become smaller and quieter, fearful of speaking up because I was suddenly unsure of what was safe and what was condemned. There were of course kind and gracious words spoken as well, and so often when criticism jumps from our lips we hardly realize the damage it may inflict. Those careless words that should have remained a passing thought in our minds.
Looking back, I can see so many instances where I was the one bringing unwelcome criticism and advice. Whether it was sleep schedules for babies or the best translation of the Bible, I know I have spoken words of correction when what a friend really needed to hear was encouragement.
Titus 2 instructs older women to encourage younger women. No matter our age, we are all older to someone. Sometimes it’s simply that we’re older in experience and season of life or our journey of faith. A thirty-year-old newlywed can look to a thirty-year-old mother of four for encouragement.
Too often, though, we mistake advice for encouragement. In an effort to help, to give information we wish we would have had, we assault the ones we hope to encourage with should haves and definitely don’ts. And just like the nagging wife mentioned throughout Proverbs, we drive the ones we love away rather than drawing them in and shepherding their hearts.
As I strive to become more of an encourager and less of a corrector, I try to keep these questions in my mind when a friend is struggling:
Are they asking for help or simply processing?
Do I have experience here or just an opinion?
What would I need to hear if I were in her shoes?
When I think of the older women I would run to in times of crisis, they are women who delight in me. They light up when they see me. The words they have spoken most over me are things like, “You’re doing great… you look beautiful… you’re a great mom… you can do hard things… I will pray for you… I’m sorry you’re hurting.”
It’s not that they sugar coat or are fearful of confrontation, but somehow when they speak honey words of encouragement, the Holy Spirit moves in conviction, correction, and comfort in ways no human can.
Encouraging words are a salve to a weary heart, and they create a safe place for younger ones to come when they are actually seeking advice. We are soft to hear correction when we know the voice speaking is full of grace, not condemnation.
The sisterhood found in the body of Christ is one of the most beautiful aspects of the Church. We can be each other’s greatest cheerleaders or harshest critics. May we seek to be encouragers, may we be known for building up, and may we be cautious with our correction.
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