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The Power of Encouragement

by UNC Contributor

A middle-aged man from the US relaxes at his New Brunswick cottage, after an all-day outing with his family. Life is good. The children are healthy. The wife is content and supportive. The husband has a bright future ahead of him. He earns the present-day equivalent of a six-figure salary on Wall Street. He has political aspirations and a promising political career ahead. Both he and his wife also come from wealthy well-to-do families.

As evening approaches, however, disaster strikes. His body feels numb. He suffers cramps. He slips into bed hoping that a good night’s sleep will allow the illness to go away. It does not. Rather, the sickness gets worse. The next day he cannot move his arms and legs. He is paralysed.

The doctor is called. Medical tests are done, but results will not be back for a few weeks. In the meantime, his arms slowly come back to normal. But not his legs. He wonders why this is happening. Finally, the medical test results arrive. He has contracted polio and will be crippled for the rest of his life.

How would you feel if everything had been going well for you, and then, suddenly, such a calamity occurs? Would you not get depressed? Would you perhaps end up feeling, shall we say, ‘sorry for yourself’?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a strong, self-motivated individual. He was Secretary of the Navy during World War I. His uncle Theodore Roosevelt, had been President of the United States. Franklin was a very successful lawyer in New York City. Then he took that fateful vacation in August 1921 on the island of Campobello, off the coast of New Brunswick.

Contracting polio changed everything. Being bed-ridden and debilitated, his attitude changed. His whole world crumbled around him. His career, his love for activity, his desire to play with the children. And also his hopes for a promising political career, if not the Presidency, were dashed. He literally gave up. He felt sorry for himself.

Are You Feeling Sorry for Yourself?

One of the things that I find remarkable is how sometimes a few simple words can change everything.

Louis Howe was Franklin’s campaign manager when Franklin would eventually run for political office. Without Franklin, he would naturally be out of a job. He had apparently based his fortunes on a fallen star. And Franklin had virtually given up on himself.

But Louis was not going to give up that easily. Somehow he was able to see behind the whole episode. He told Franklin that either he could sit around and be a country squire (after all, the Roosevelts were a wealthy family), be a permanent invalid living out of a wheelchair—or he could venture to become the future ‘President of the United States’! This goal seemed preposterous at first, but after continual prodding and encouragement by both he and Franklin’s wife Eleanor, Franklin began to snap out of it. The tactics worked. Franklin gradually developed intense determination to fight the disease to the end.

Franklin first learned to crawl. He was never able to walk properly. He managed to at least hobble around with leg braces. But FDR (as he was affectionately called) was no longer going to give up. And as they say, the rest is history.

We also need to look for encouragement at times when we are down. The scriptures are a healthy source of encouragement for us in times of despair. And if we know of someone who needs encouragement, we should also reach out and help such people.

Feeling Sorry for Ourselves Can Become An Addiction—It Can Cripple Us

We can learn certain things from suffering. One cannot suffer from dramatic events and then expect to escape unscathed. Some sources indicate that Franklin learned compassion and sympathy for his fellow man through his affliction. Certainly appropriate attitudes for a leader, who would one day lead a nation of people through the Great Depression, and who would provide comfort in one of the most horrible wars in history.

It is he who inspired the economically downtrodden United States of the 1930s with the saying, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” The person whose future once looked hopeless now brought hope. A cripple now led a crippled nation. We can certainly see a possible hidden purpose to his prior suffering.

The apostle Peter indicated that our suffering has similarities to what Christ went through, with the end result being that we should also thereby partake of Christ’s glory in the future (1 Peter 4:12-13). With some similarity, Franklin was also purified through this affliction in order to sympathize with those in the future who needed help in his country. He became one of the best loved Presidents in history. When he died in office, people of all backgrounds mourned and lined up for miles to see the passage of the train that was carrying the president’s casket with his body for burial. The world would have probably been much worse off if he never appeared on the scene.

We cannot expect that all suffering we endure is for a noble purpose on a scale similar to this former President. But we also cannot always discount suffering as a totally negative experience. We can learn something about ourselves and other people. We also may be able to help others because of the experience.

Life Can Be Crippling

There are times when life’s problems constantly harass and cripple us. We sometimes find it difficult to go on. We may go to sleep at night in fear. We do not know if we can navigate through the minefield of troubles.

Or sometimes we may feel that we are worthless. Even though it is not wise to do so, we may still compare ourselves with others. We do not dress as well, look as good, work in a job just as important, or have the same attractive personality as others do. We may also feel that we are not making a worthwhile and positive contribution to other people’s lives. No one may notice when we are missing from an event or activity. No one may call us on the phone to see how we are doing. We often find it hard to be optimistic.

Christ However Did Say That the Father Cares For Us.

We should not worry (Matthew 6:25, 31). God provides for the birds (Matthew 6:26). God has designed the plants meticulously (Matthew 6:28-30). If God therefore pays so much attention to the plants and animals, then certainly He must pay even more attention to us and what we are going through, we being of much greater value than the plants and animals. Do we really think that God individually formed and shaped us to dwell on this planet, and then only cares about a select few? Surely God cares for each one of us.

But this encouragement often is hard to believe. We may ask, “Where is God?” “Is He really looking out for me?” “Is He actually interested in my welfare?”

The apostle John writes, “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul may be going along well” (3 John 2). God does care for our welfare—but He also allows things to happen for a purpose we often do not grasp. And we also sometimes have to learn from our mistakes.

The Lessons in Life

Soon after starting high school, I could not help but notice that two of my newly acquired friends seemed to be different from the other kids. They did not make fun of or tear down other people. They did not laugh at another’s mistakes. They did not point out a person’s shortcomings. They were sympathetic and pleasant friends to be around.

It was not until years later that I discovered the reason why they were so refreshingly different. One had a mentally challenged brother, and the other had a mentally challenged sister. They had to grow up showing continual love and patience to one of their impoverished family members. As a result, they became perhaps more noble in attitude and character than the rest of us.

Difficulties can usually lead to growth. We must often look for the silver lining in a trial. The apostle Paul was often perplexed by the trials that frequently plagued him. He received comfort from God’s promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you...The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalms 118:6, 7).

Most have not suffered as much as the apostle Paul. Paul had often been severely beaten, imprisoned, went hungry, and had been in danger from both people and the physical elements (2 Corinthians 11:23- 28). But yet Paul could find comfort in his time of greatest peril: “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9).

To be in such a state of mind as Paul was, is very difficult. It is very hard to trust in God and accept our predicaments as some day glorifying God.

In Jesus’ day, the disciples saw a blind beggar by the road and asked: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus responded, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned...but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (verse 3). Christ gave a similar response when his friend Lazarus was sick and was to die (John 11:4). The blind beggar was healed, and Lazarus was later raised from the dead in order to show God’s glory, just as Jesus had said.

Life Is Difficult

Problems in life seem endless. And it is easy to say to someone that they should be positive in their trial, while we ourselves are doing fine. But the Word of God provides encouragement to those who suffer.

The apostle Paul provides us with positive assurances: “who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 38-39).

With this confidence we go forward to find peace in God as we strive to serve and please Him.

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