A Lesson in Encouragement

I work as an Inclusion Aide in Special Education in an Elementary school,  which just means I get paid to laugh. I love the kids I work with. I love that they teach me to laugh at myself and daily give me a lighter view of the world. Throughout my short career,  I’ve had the privilege of spending hours and hours observing and engaging in relationship with children.  I especially glean from their interactions with one another.

One little girl, Savannah, is so enthusiastic. The books her teacher reads, the videos her class watches, her teachers instructions, her peer’s stick figure drawing, all blow her away, evoking her most expressive “Wow!” “Woah!” “That’s awesome!” “Did you see that?!”

She’s a fount of encouragement. She’s the voice you’d want cheering in your congregation as you preached. What I like most about Savannah is not simply that she is innately encouraging, but I see working within her, a recognition of quality and sensitivity to the efforts of others. When her peers, or her teacher for that matter, present quality to her, she applauds it. “Good job Ms. S!,” she shouts to her teacher.

Today Savannah was coloring in her fire station workbook. She pulled out a freshly sharpened color pencil and brought it within inches of my nose. “What color is this Mrs. Weatherly?”

“Aqua!” I replied. Her eyes lit up and she let out a screechy giggle.

Immediately, she went to coloring her fire station dalmatian pup, aqua. When she had finished she was immensely proud of the work she’d done. I told her it was fabulous and she beamed, but sometimes approval means more from your peers. So, she showed her work to those at her table.

“Dogs are black or brown, not aqua!” the first girl said. Disappointed, but not deterred Savannah took her masterpiece to the neighboring table.

“That’s wrooooong!” another girl declared. Savannah sunk.

“It’s pretty,” I heard her say under her breath.

I wanted to scoop her up and explain that sometimes people don’t recognize the beauty that is so obviously within in you. That you have to receive approval from God alone. I wanted to shield her, to protect her. She couldn’t understand why she wasn’t shown the same courtesy she so readily bestows to everyone else. I sat there feeling as deflated as she. I told her again what a great job she had done and then it was time to clean up.

There are times in my life I have been guilty of the same treatment those little girls showed Savannah. And there are times I have been Savannah, eager to please and to celebrate a job well done but swiftly rejected by those with whom I thought to celebrate. We all have to learn the hard way that approval comes from the Father. We have to know in our heart of hearts that we are “accepted in the Beloved,” Ephesians 1:6.

At the same time, I wonder. Can I, in my day to day be more like Savannah, quick to recognize the quality in others and eager to applaud it? Can I be sensitive to other’s efforts and join them in their celebration of a job well done? I understand that the gift of encouragement may not come so easily to us as it does to Savannah, but my prayer is that we not allow any excuse or insecurity within ourselves keep us from learning love.

One of my favorite passages says in Romans 12:10-15 “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord…Rejoice with those who rejoice.”

In other words, be like Savannah.

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