Guest post by Katie Johnson
Encourage: give support, confidence, or hope to (someone), to hearten, cheer, uplift.
Two years ago, in the midst of a hard transition and season of life, I was invited to attend the informational dessert about Encourage, a ministry of Church at Charlotte, and made the decision to give it a try. After all, this is what my heart longed for: encouragement. However, when I walked into the room that first night, facing a room full of women I did not know at all, my heart started racing, and I felt everything but encouraged. To add to my anxiety, we were asked to go around and answer the question, “Why are you here?” Why was I there? Because I was lonely, I had been rejected, and I had a deep need to be encouraged! But there was NO way I could share ALL THAT in this crowd of strangers. Too raw, too painful, and way too vulnerable. Yet, as I sat and listened that evening, and over the next year or so, God slowly opened my heart to the reality that EVERYONE has a story, EVERYONE longs for what I long for…to be KNOWN.
Over the months ahead, God slowly (yes, I’m a slow learner) began a work in my heart, revealing my fears and my false beliefs about HIM, and opening my eyes to my own grid, or lens through which I view the world. I didn’t even realize I had a grid, much less that this grid influenced how I related with and treated other people. My own story, full of joy and love, pain and heartache, has shaped my perspective on the world. I knew I had a story, and a story that I wanted people to fully understand. What I didn’t realize was how trapped I was by my own grid. Yes, my painful experiences and disappointments in friendships and the hard time of transition back to Charlotte were valid and real, but I was trapped by these, desperately waiting for someone to completely understand my story, and in that, set me free. I wanted to be known, accepted and loved in the midst of my mess. I wanted to be told I had every right to feel angry and hurt. I was unable to really listen attentively to others because I wanted MY story to be heard and validated. Yet ironically, at the same time, I couldn’t be honest and real with people because of a deep fear of rejection, a fear of being too much. As a result, I couldn’t see the people God was bringing into my life. I really was trapped by my own grid. And I still deeply craved some encouragement. Yet the Lord, in all His grace, wanted to set me free. He wanted me to entrust my story to Him and allow Him to re-shape the way I see people. He wanted to encourage me in a whole different sense of the word.
Encourage: to give support and advice to (someone) so that they will do or continue to do something, to persuade, coax, urge, press, prompt; help or stimulate (an activity, state or view) to develop.
I was looking for hope, for confidence, for people to cheer me along…for someone to understand and accept me. While the Lord has done this in many ways, I believe that what He really wanted to do was reveal the idols of my heart, the things and people I trusted more than Him. He wanted to prompt, coax, and urge me to let go of the things that easily entangled me so I could be FREE to look up and look out. Through His Word and faithful women in the church, He has pressed into me the truth about Himself and relationships, about my past and how He has created me. He is helping to develop in me a listening spirit, a forgiving and gracious heart, a deeper faith in His promises, a new understanding of the Gospel. Although the struggles are still there and my story has not changed, the Lord has given me a new freedom…a freedom to be ME, a freedom to see my grid through the backdrop of the cross, and a freedom to allow women around me to uplift and cheer me on. And perhaps the greatest encouragement I needed was to look up and see the many women around me who have a story, and who have a deep need to be cheered on, uplifted and supported!
If you are looking for a place to grow in understanding your own grid and how that impacts your relationships, to be in an environment where you can learn to look up and see the women around you, and to be encouraged by the Word of God in regards to how we relate to one another as women, I invite you to participate in the next class of Encourage at Church at Charlotte.