Christopher Robin Got it Wrong on this One

I work in an organisation I innocently nickname, “The cult of encouragement”. Seriously, if you are a student or staff with us, we will encourage you to overflowing. Giftings we recognise. Character we see displayed. Traits we love. Heck, if you are having a good hair day, we’ll let you know. It’s a wonderful thing and can be very healing for a lot of people. Their proverbial “love tank” get’s filled to overflowing. We don’t always get it right but, in general, it is part of our culture.

Sometimes I see staff that almost become addicted to it. They live from one encouragement to another. It’s almost as if they can’t survive without constant reminders, “You are a wonderful person! God loves you! You have so many giftings and talents!”

Is it possible to be encouraged too much?

winnie_and_christopher_robin-t2On my flight today I was looking through the infamous SkyMall magazine. I came across a must-have sterling silver engraved necklace with this deep and profound quote:

“Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
-Christopher Robin to Pooh

As I read this I smiled to myself and thought, “Oh, poor Pooh.” This is a mantra for those going through tough times, challenges and difficulties. What is Pooh to do in those times? According to Christopher Robin, encourage himself that he’s got the bravery, strength and wisdom all within himself. You can do it Pooh!

This may be the creed in the 1,000 Acre Woods but it shouldn’t be the mantra for followers of Jesus.

I think we need more reminders that go like this:

Promise me you will always remember: you may not be as brave as needed, as strong as you believe or as smart as anyone else. But, Jesus.”

When it comes to encouragement let us remember that who we are is not the ultimate thing. Who we are in Jesus is.

Be cautious when a good thing becomes the ultimate thing. Encouragement is a good thing. I shouldn’t let it become the ultimate thing. The ultimate thing is Jesus.

The very nature of the gospel is that I don’t need to be brave, strong and smart. In fact, I’m not as brave, strong or smart as I need to be. But, Jesus.

How can we tell when we have bought into the cult of encouragement more than the freedom of the Gospel?

We should be able to hear things like this and it bring peace:

“Well, you are not good enough to accomplish this task. There are other people that are more talented than you in this area. But, Jesus does like to use inept people! You never know, in spite of yourself this might turn out alright!”

If that would devastate you, you likely have a Savior that looks more like you having to be perfect than Jesus who was perfect.

Perhaps this is why scripture didn’t stop at “Let us encourage one another”. It kept going, “Let us encourage one another in Christ“.

Encouragement literally means to “put courage in”. Nothing puts courage in like being reminded that we don’t need to be strong brave or smart like Pooh. We can fall short in many ways. But, Jesus.

Let’s promise ourselves that we will always remember that.

My Mountain is My Greatest Ally

The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.

We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.

Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.

But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.

Mountain_allyWhat if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.

This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?

Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!

But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of ¬†success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.

What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.

I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we ¬†desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.

Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.

What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?