I don’t know if it’s my teacherly instincts, or some spiritual drive, but I find when I’m “listening to my life”, I’m regularly presented with opportunities to be watchful, kind or helpful. But these opportunites have to be responded to, and once in awhile they take time away from what we typically define as the “work” of our days. Even so, encouragement is sacrificial work worth doing. We do it naturally as parents, for example, so why not practice it elsewhere, too?!
One example: As I check in with friends on Facebook (or Myspace, though that’s slipping some), I encourage and/or challenge, in a very specific way, folks that I already have a trusting relationship with. I mirror themselves back to them. It’s a relational risk, because common wisdom says not to give unrequested advice, which is actually a good idea. Plus I may come off as a know-it-all –which I dislike about myself, but it does sometimes happen. However, making the distinction between “advice” and encouragement or mutual accountability is an important one.
I’ve been told encouragement is one of my biblically-defined spiritual gifts, and even took an informal written test once to identify those. Either way, whether it just comes from me, or from the Holy Spirit, (lately I’ve learned not to ask so much), I take a chance and put these encouragements out there, hoping they reap some benefit either for my friend, or for the future of our relationship. Best of all, the more I do it, the more I see it working, and I see these people and relationships grow and change. (Unless I’m kidding myself… anyone who’s been offended needs to let me know…)
So here’s a few “sharing-the-wealth” presents: comments I offered in response particular online notes or status updates. Hopefully these have enough general usefulness or artfulness to be removed from the “temporary/throw-away communication” channel that is Facebook, and brought here (in edited form, for privacy or wider relevance), to the slightly more permanent channel of Marking Time and the wider web.
1) In response to someone’s note about a difficult dream/memory:
That’s the other purpose for our dreams & subconscious: fuel for the creative fire (and personal growth) when we’re awake and aware. The Spirit speaks thru the ether, and as long as we listen and learn, transformation of our pain and awareness of our place in Creation are sure to follow. With your head on straight, the more the dark presses down on you, the bigger your soul grows in response.
I also found myself telling my college writing students the other night about the “language” of dreams, and how Australian aborigines, for example, value spiritual lessons from Dreamtime as much as those they discuss when they’re awake.
2) In response to a Note about shrinkage in membership numbers for Mennonite Church, USA as a denomination:
My opinion: The Refiner doesn’t give a rip about 20th-century style demographics. Math and statistics are like putty in God’s hands, and persistently fighting a “losing battle” doesn’t necessarily mean the fight should be abandoned. That too is part of The Way: what we can learn or still give, even in the journey of descent. Furthermore, whether MC-USA is due for revival or chastening (or both), those worldwide numbers [e.g. increasing membership in Africa] are very revealing when looked at through the right lens.
I think the above principle is relevant for a number of other old mainline Christian denominations as well, both in the U.S. and abroad. Our “balance sheet” should be about more than numbers or money. Part of what the Emerging Church is now discovering is that the multi-ethnic growth of the church in the developing world, and the embracing of some rather non-Western ideas about spirituality, can be a source of inspiration instead of evoking dread or a competitive response.