From the title of this post, you probably think I’m looking for you to tell me all the ways I’m awesome. I promise that’s not the direction I’m going. (And this is where you say to yourself Good, Kristen, because I wasn’t going to tell you that at all. Heh.)
A couple weeks ago, I traveled through the clear blue skies to North Carolina for a writers’ retreat. It is a yearly get-together for the writers of an online space in which I contribute, and every year I look forward to connecting with the good folks there. This year, however, I almost didn’t go. I told my husband I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I’ve been in such a tender place lately, and I didn’t think I had the energy to be helpful to anyone. Then there’s the fact that coordinating my family’s schedule in my absence requires almost as much logistical planning as a military operation. Combine that with my heavy spirit and it just seemed easier to stay home.
I’m not what you would call “a natural” at many things, but I am a natural encourager. Most people in my circles know me as this. But with my heart and soul in a place that couldn’t offer much by way of support or encouragement, a little bit of me wondered if I would still be likable to these gals. Enjoyable. Any fun at all. When you go into something knowing you’re a hot, vulnerable mess, you fear you may be a little too high maintenance for your own good–not to mention theirs.
I explained all this to my husband who believed I would still regret it if I didn’t go. Sighing in resignation, I packed my suitcase and what grit I could muster and prayed that God would help me be more supportive than needy.
I landed in Charlotte and met another writer at the airport, she and I the tail-end-Charlies to the arriving gang. As we waited for our ride from the airport to the hotel, she asked me in all sincerity, “How are you doing?” Cue my meager grit dissolving like glass back to sand and I just started crying right there outside the Charlotte airport’s baggage claim.
As I expected, that wasn’t the only time I puddled up in front of someone. It happened an additional 17.854 times, approximately. When someone asked, “How are you doing?” I simply didn’t have the energy to give a glossy I’m fine. I didn’t have the energy to deflect attention back to the other person. I didn’t have the energy to apologize for my tears, which is my usual MO. As a result, I found kindness from those who said yes, I’d cry about that too. I found support from others who didn’t see me as a burden. I discovered we’re all more alike than different in what makes us nervous and tired and insecure. Because I chose to meet up with these women (as well as my longtime friend Cheryl who lives in Fayetteville), I left North Carolina heartened and encouraged.
Here’s the truly interesting thing: The week after I got home, there was an undeniable buoyancy to my spirit. I felt lighter, like I had stepped into a garden where flowers bloomed bright and a cool breeze blew my hair over my bare shoulders. I walked as if an extra set of arms held my burdens. No, my circumstances hadn’t changed one iota (still haven’t), but I feel the later advantages that come with first accepting encouragement from others.
Of course, there are times when it is good to stay at home and not venture out with a vulnerable heart. Prayer and discernment help us know when to stay and when to go. But if you find yourself crying easily as you answer simple questions, it may be time to step outside your front door and through someone else’s. You may not want to today, but your later self will tell you it was the right thing to do.
And if you are a born encourager yet struggle to allow yourself to be encouraged in return (hopefully I’m not the only one?), please know that God may well use the one encouraging you to bring you from the desert to the garden. Know Jesus will show up and affirm that you are likable well beyond your ability to encourage in any given moment. Believe you indeed deserve the encouragement from others.
Most of all, believe that you need it, too, and that you can be supportive because of your neediness, not in spite of it.
Much love to you, friends. xo