Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? Something that makes your jaw drop, heart smile, and eyes water? We had such an experience when we went to Chattanooga to celebrate my birthday. We spent the afternoon at the Creative Discovery Museum and delighted in time spent with our children. We explored, made music, created art, played, and learned, and it was such fun! To top off our excellent afternoon together, we decided to have dinner before heading back to Sparta.
At the restaurant, our server seated us next to an older couple who were enjoying a quiet dinner. I couldn’t help but wonder if the couple cringed when they saw a family with four children being seated next to them! We turned our attention to ordering and then spent time as a family chatting together. We talked about all the fun we’d had at the museum, brainstormed other ways to solve the engineering tasks we’d experienced, and even challenged each other with mental math problems (yes, we’re nerds). Midway through our meal, the couple behind us rose to leave, but the woman stopped by our table. “Excuse me,” she said. “It’s so nice to see a family out enjoying themselves without electronics.” We were surprised and thanked her before continuing with our meal. Dining out with children can be an adventure, and hearing someone praise them was a blessing to our hearts.
As we finished our food and shared a piece of birthday pie, our server approached us with a surprise. Imagine our shock to learn that the couple I had been concerned about disturbing had paid for our meal! We had never seen them before and wouldn’t recognize them if we saw them again, but they showed kindness to our family with a generous gift, kind words, and a simple note they left, saying “Bless your family.” We appreciated their generosity so much (dinner out for a family of six is not cheap), but what meant the most was that they took the time to speak kindly to us about the good that they saw. My already-great birthday was even better because someone chose encouragement rather than exasperation.
Similarly, my friend Tara spoke recently of an older gentleman who approached her in Walmart as she was corralling her children. He told her that she was doing the most important job in the world, and then he blessed her and wished her to be filled with the fruits of the Spirit. She later said that his words were worth more than a million dollars to her. Parents who have ever run the gauntlet of the grocery store with their children can recognize what a blessing he was to her. Instead of assuming that three little boys were a handful, he recognized that they were a gift and cared enough to speak words of light and love to a mother working hard to care for them.
I’ve thought a lot about the power of encouragement since then. Isn’t it true that an encouraging word at just the right time can make a huge difference? When I have been working through a tough situation, a word of criticism can be so deflating. Conversely, a word of encouragement provides a boost to my spirits that helps me get through the challenge.
I will admit that my default setting is criticism. If I’m not careful, my running dialogue with my children has a tendency to be:
“Don’t do that.”
“That’s not nice.”
“We don’t act that way.”
Of course, correction is necessary, but it needs to be part of a balanced diet that’s sprinkled liberally with words of encouragement. When I receive encouraging words about my parenting, it lightens my heart, puts a spring in my step, and makes me want to do an even better job. I must take care not to forget that my children will have the same reaction if I call out the good I see in them. Our day together goes much more smoothly if our dialogue sounds more like this:
“I like how you shared your toy.”
“I am proud of you for standing up for your friend.”
“I saw how you controlled your anger.”
“Thank you for putting away your dishes without being asked.”
“Thank you for the hug.”
I challenge you to find a way to encourage someone today - your spouse, your children, or even a stranger in Walmart. It is wonderful if you are in the position to give a financial blessing, but even more important are the words you offer, and they don’t cost a dime. Let’s give the people around us the gift of kind and gracious words. Let’s choose encouragement over exasperation.
Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”