Thursday, June 14, 2007

Encouraging - or being encouraged?

We’re supposed to comfort the dying – right?

That was my attitude as I ministered to my mother-in-law during her last weeks on this earth. While we never talked about it, she seemed to know that her time would soon come to join the crowd from every tribe, tongue, and nation around the throne. My husband and I were blessed as her caregivers to minister to her when she still lived in her own apartment, and doubly blessed when she moved in with us. We focused on making whatever time she had left – we didn’t know how much it would be – as pleasant and comfortable as possible. When her time to pass from this life to the next came, we were standing at her bedside.

We were intending to comfort her. Instead, we found ourselves experiencing the truth of 2 Cor. 1:6a: If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort….

“Comfort” here is the word often translated “encourage” in the New Testament. “Paraklesis” refers to calling to one’s side, exhorting, consoling, encouraging and strengthening, and, yes, comforting. If the word looks familiar, it should – it’s closely related to “Paraklete”, the Greek term used for the Holy Spirit.

Looking at this verse after Mom’s homegoing, it suddenly made sense to me. Both our affliction and our comfort are for the “paraklesis”, the comfort, the encouragement of others. Whether we are going through a difficult time or an easy time, God’s design is that we pass it on to others “for their comfort” – for their encouragement, in an encouraging way.

Mom never once quoted me this verse, but she lived it out every day. Even as she spent 99 of her last 105 days in the hospital, individuals still left her room feeling better than when they arrived. Within two weeks of her homegoing, she prayed with a family friend, “Lord, cause me to be a blessing to someone today.” Within an hour and a half before crossing into eternity, she was thanking the medical providers coming into her room and just enjoying hearing her family’s voice. In her last minutes, as she fixed her eyes on my husband and me and listened to us sing hymns and praise songs, she had a look of transcendent peace that spoke volumes to us weeks afterward.

I learned much through my encouraging mother-in-law. But among the most unexpected lessons was this paradoxical truth: Our affliction is for others’ encouragement. By God’s grace, when I face affliction I’ll try to be an encouragement to others. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to minister comfort to those in difficult situations, even those who are dying. But I won’t be surprised if I find myself on the receiving end instead.

How about you? What affliction are you facing that leaves you desperately feeling like you need to be encouraged? Is the load on the field weighing more heavily than usual today, causing you to need an encourager yourself?

Consider whether God has put this affliction in your life for the comfort, the encouragement of others. Then look around and see how your affliction becomes their comfort. Leave them wondering how, with all you are going through, you can possibly care about them. Then be ready with an answer for the hope that is within you -- because they'll ask!

Standing with you - to encourage you as you encourage them through the very trials that wear you down tonight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can only imagine how much your
mother-in-law loved and appreciated
you!! Can only imagine how blessed
you were to be at her side at her