It’s Track and Field Day at the international school. The high school boys line up for the 1600 meter race. At the sharp, "Crack!" of the starter’s gun the runners explode from the starting line, each boy straining to get the maximum results from his body. Sixteen hundred meters later, one would win, one would be the fastest, the best. Four others would lose, though they may have trained and competed just as well.
The favorites in this race were an Australian boy and a Singaporean. Both ran well, and the race was close. But with a final charge the Australian overtook the Singaporean, winning by a nose. Cheers! Joy! Disappointment. You find them all at the finish line.
The mother of that second-place boy publically chided him and rebuked her son because he didn’t win. The sight saddened us. As if losing wasn’t bad enough, he also had to endure his mother’s scorn. Why did she treat him so harshly? Perhaps she thought it would help her son become a better person or motivate him to excel. After all, doesn’t everyone know that (as some Asians have told us) "if you say good, bad will happen?" Let’s not forget kiasu either. Perhaps you are not familiar with kiasu. It is a Chinese word for the win-at-all-costs attitude that permeates Singapore and has quickly spread into other Asian countries. Kiasu means you must be first. It’s something like the slogan a motivational speaker once used: "If you are not the lead dog in the sled team, the view will always be the same." Both ideas convey the same win-at-all-costs life view.
Another boy ran another race that day, a boy who had no hope of winning. He entered the race only to gain participation points for his team. He ran his heart out, but he still finished last.
Last place! Does anybody ever want to be last? I met that boy at the finish line. I praised him and encouraged him. I told him how proud he made me. You see, that young man was my son. He won his own contest that day, the contest with his will. Some winners will never hear the cheering crowds, but they surely should have parents who applaud their efforts.
Those two young men learned different lessons that day. The first boy learned that he must win or be a failure. The second boy learned that even if you finish last, you may still succeed. Which is the better lesson?
A young piano student prepares for his recital. Small fingers make big strides and a lively imagination pours inspiration into the music. The night of the recital finally comes. He confidently walks to the piano, seats himself . . . and starts playing the wrong piece! Crying with embarrassment, he runs from the stage, wishing he could vaporize. (As they say in Star Trek, "Beam me up, Scotti!") Life can be hard for an eight-year-old, especially when his whole world sees him fail.
But wait! The power of compassion breaks tradition. Later in the program the music teacher asks him to play again. Unusual, but very right. The student returns to the piano and plays a piece he had composed. The room erupts with encouraging applause. Tears come to his parents’ eyes, for a second chance was all their son needed to save the day. He had that chance, thanks to a teacher who broke tradition and broke the power of discouragement as well.
How much like Jesus, who always gave his disciples a second chance to succeed. Being with Jesus must have been one of life’s most encouraging experiences. His disciples learned from their failures, and became stronger because of the lessons the Master taught them.
Encouragement unlocks your child’s heart. Many parents have succeeded in gaining maximum accomplishments from their children but have never gained entrance to their child’s soul. That is because discipline can win a child’s respect, but encouragement wins his affection.
Encouragement is like a blood transfusion. When a child’s courage oozes away through a wound to the inner man, that child needs a transfusion of fresh courage. Moms and dads can give that transfusion of courage to their children, but only if they see the need, take the time, make a connection, and reach their child’s heart.
According to the verse we quoted earlier, it’s the faint hearted who need encouragement. In Greek that is a descriptive word. It means the person with a small soul. Haven’t you known times when your child’s confidence seemed to shrivel up like a dried flower?
Encouragement rejuvenates. When we encourage our children we help them stand up on the inside. All of us have times when we feel overwhelmed, and for children those times can come often. They constantly face new tasks and must learn to handle new emotions. What tremendous assets we are to them when we seize every opportunity to encourage.
The Power of Gentleness
A man I highly respect told the following story about his daughter. During her teenage years she went through a troubled time. In fact, her parents felt they were losing touch with her. Then her dad had an idea. One day, on his way home from work, he bought her a small present, nothing expensive, but something he knew she liked. That night he went to her room and gave it to her. He told her how much he loved her, and sat by her side while she opened her heart to him. Quietly, he listened as she revealed her fears, her concerns, her doubts. He didn’t say much that night. He just touched her hand gently and prayed for her.
That is a beautiful picture of encouragement in action. He saw her need. He took time to listen, instead of lecturing. He reached out to her, he spoke softly, and he prayed. Did it help? Oh, yes! It was the key to her heart, and it kept the connection between them open.
Some parents see every problem as a discipline problem and are blind to their child’s need for encouragement. What causes such blindness?
Self-centered living makes us blind to our family’s real needs. A self-centered person rarely sees the pain of another. I have known men and women who had great vision for their business or church, yet could not see their child’s real needs.
The glare of prosperity and achievement can blind our eyes to our children’s needs. Some parents give their children things instead of attention, substituting another toy for real love. It won’t work. You get what you pay for. Substitute possessions for attention and you get a child who only loves you (if you can call it love) for what you give him. Love your child enough to get involved and you gain entrance to his heart for life. Love means involvement. It always has and it always will. Are you involved in your child’s life? Do you know the fears, the desires, the struggles?
Lack of Understanding. For several years of our younger son’s life we disciplined him when we should have encouraged him. We loved Matt, yet we were blind to his real needs, his deeper needs, and only saw the outward expressions of those needs in his negative behavior. A perceptive Christian counselor at our son’s school helped us understand that his problems needed a different approach. She helped us realize that our son wanted to cooperate with us. But he was frustrated by difficulties we couldn’t see. Yes, we still needed to discipline him at times. But when we saw his real needs we were able to encourage more and discipline more effectively.
Winston Churchill knew how to encourage. He spoke hope to the British people during the long days and nights of German bombings. He reminded them of who they were and what they could do, and assured them that victory would be theirs. All children need parents who can do that for them in a way they can understand at their age, for little soldiers often fight big battles. Encouragement is the mark of effective leaders. Through it they raise their followers’ spirits, leading them to accomplish mighty deeds and win impossible battles.
Like water to a thirsty plant, encouragement makes our children flourish. Who pours fresh hope into your daughter when she makes a mistake in her recital? Who stands by your son when he misses the goal that would have won the game? Think about your own life as a child. Weren’t there more discouragers than encouragers? Teachers, coaches, tutors, playmates: everyone seemed too busy to encourage. For most of us, a few people, perhaps only one or two, stand out. They were the encouragers, the life-changers. Wouldn’t you like to be one of those rare people in your child’s life?
Among my treasures I have a card from one of my sons. He wrote it during his teen years. In it he calls me a great dad and a great encourager. I don’t always deserve those titles, but what joy to know my son sees me that way.
We will see our child’s need for encouragement if we ask Jesus, the Great Physician, to heal our vision. Then we will begin seeing our children as He sees them. It’s not a sin to be blind, but it is a sin to stay blind when sight is available. Will you pray this prayer?
"Lord Jesus, you alone can give sight to the blind. We ask you to open our eyes to our children. Help us to see them as you see them and to love them as you love them. Show us what blinds us. If we have shut our eyes, refusing to see, forgive us. Grant us the courage to open our eyes and see our selves and our children as we really are."
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