So maybe you didn’t know I’ve been sort of discouraged lately. (Understatement.) More to the point, I’ve been sad, depressed, angry, cynical, resigned, bored, confused and exhausted. I wrote a little about it in another post called “She’s Come Undone.” (That was just the tip of the iceberg.)

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and I walked away from it encouraged. Later I wondered why other friends had tried to encourage me, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as a 30-minute lunch conversation. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized some traits. I call these traits “un-encouragement,” because they undermine true efforts to encourage. See if you can relate.

Disclaimer: I’ve been guilty of these same tactics, so I’m not passing judgment! I love and value my friends, and I know their intentions are pure.


Sometimes when we’re sad or upset or whatever, a loving and well-meaning friend will tell us all the reasons we shouldn’t be. You might say, “I suck as a Christian and as a human being in general.” And your friend might fiercely object. “What?! That’s ridiculous! You are the kindest, most generous person I know!” The result: Now, in addition to feeling as if you suck, you also feel more lonely and misunderstood than ever. After all, you know you suck. You know the ugly, dark thoughts in your heart. When your friend objects, it just shows how your friend doesn’t know you … how no one knows you. It also makes you feel your friend doesn’t believe you. If you honestly share your feelings, and your friend responds by basically calling you a liar … well, you do the math.

UN-ENCOURAGEMENT 2: You’re a Bad Christian

Sometimes when we’re sad or upset or whatever, a loving and well-meaning friend will direct us to scripture. You might say, “I feel like God’s so far away from me right now.” And your friend might respond, “What? That’s ridiculous. Haven’t you read that God will never leave you? Listen, read Deuteronomy 31 tonight. And read the book of John. Yes, the entire book, because God’s love is written all over it.” The result: Now you feel like an even worse Christian than you did five minutes ago. You already know what the Bible says! Reading the scriptures isn’t going to help! … Wait a second … shouldn’t it help? Maybe your faith is too shallow to let the scripture “drop from your head to your heart.” Maybe God really has abandoned you! Et cetera.

These forms of unencouragement cause many people to keep their feelings to themselves. We don’t want pat answers and easy 3-step solutions, because these things are useless and condescending. So we close in on ourselves, and our situations seem increasingly impossible and hopeless. Who knows how that will end?


In my opinion, real encouragement involves listening and sharing. It’s saying to a friend, “I’ve been there.” Or if you haven’t, it’s being honest about it rather than behaving as if you’re dripping with answers. I’ve found that when people are able to honestly relate what they’re feeling (and unencouragement is avoided at all costs), God’s really able to get His foot in the door. (You must also be determined not to have a pity party.) You begin to dialog about your thoughts and experiences, and somehow, amazingly, you begin to remember God’s character–as revealed not only in the Bible, but in your own life. It’s like your soul shakes off its amnesia and you begin to remember how good He is, how kind and loving He’s been. You remember the lessons He taught you before, and you recognize how they’re still applicable to this situation today. You wind up encouraging one another.

It’s also helpful to talk because nine times out of ten (I don’t have any research to back up those statistics) you realize you’re not alone. Your friend has either gone through it before, or is going through it right now. For some reason it helps to know you’re not the only Christian on the planet who has doubted God’s decision to choose you as His own.

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11 thoughts on “Un-encouragement

  1. thirtypieces says:

    Good Stuff… God Bless.

  2. Tracie says:

    πŸ™‚ Thanks!

  3. snowjunkie says:

    Hi Tracie, sorry to read you’re going through tough times. Hope you feel better soon. Trust in those friends around you. Don’t keep it all bottled up.

  4. Tracie says:

    Thanks Snowjunkie. Nice to hear from you!

  5. Linzy says:

    LOVE the new page! πŸ™‚ And I can totally relate to this. I’m sorry that things have been a little rough, but you make so many good points. It is completely unhelpful when you’re venting or just feeling crappy about life and someone either gives you the pat “Christianeese” answer or lectures you about how you’ve somehow screwed up! Thank you for being honest, because this stuff is so good. Anytime we get together, I’ll gladly listen as well as talk. πŸ˜‰

  6. Christopher says:

    In reference to un-encouragement #2, I would say that I fall into that category, though whenever I do bring up scripture relating to any event or circumstance, I try (at least in my mind) to be sympathetic to what the person is feeling.

    My reasoning however is this, God’s Word convicts, teaches, reveals, builds up, confirms etc; not my watered down-politically corrected-non-spiritually discerned-pseudo scriptural, spin on what God said.

    I generally tend to think that when someone shares scripture, it’s to “preach” God’s word for the listener’s benefit not to make them self feel holy.

    Grace and peace be with you.

  7. Tracie says:

    Hi Christopher:

    I wholeheartedly agree about God’s Word and all it does. And I certainly don’t think those who share scriptures are trying to make themselves feel holy! We simply want to help our friend because we love her! There’s nothing wrong with that!

    However, I think the person trying to encourage does his friend a disservice by trying to stop her pain instead of letting pain run its course. God’s truth does not erase pain (and I don’t think it’s meant to). Pain cannot be erased or reasoned with. It is what it is. And–bottom line–there’s nothing wrong with being in pain.

    So why are we, as friends, trying to make it go away?

    The Bible says there’s a time and a season for everything; it exhorts us to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. I think the better option is to let pain be felt. The time to share the Word will come, but I think we owe it to our friends to be sensitive to their hurt and wait for the right time.

  8. Christopher says:

    Oh!! I understand better now, your point. I’m of the malespecies; a bit slow at times. πŸ™‚ I certainly do agree with what your saying.

    Such as it is with all things…balance, sensitivity, and following the Holy Spirit’s lead.

    Grace and peace be with you.

  9. Tracie says:

    Aw! Nothing wrong with the male species, we’re just tryin’ to educate y’all on the less practical side of life! Thanks Christopher.

  10. Nicole says:

    Thanks. I need this today.

  11. Tracie says:

    Nicole, I know what you mean! Hope things look up for ya!

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