Bonnie Gray is the soulful author of Whispers of Rest and Finding Spiritual Whitespace. An inspirational speaker and retreat leader, she has touched thousands of lives through storytelling, visual arts, nature, prayer and meditation. Bonnie’s writing is featured on Relevant Magazine, DaySpring (in)courage, and Christianity Today. She lives in California with her husband and their two sons. Visit Bonnie at www.thebonniegray.com and connect with her @thebonniegray on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
One time, when I was little, I played a game.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles were all visiting that weekend. The house was packed.
I don't know why I came up with the idea, but I thought it would be fun to hide. I wanted to see what would happen if I suddenly went missing.
I slipped behind our dusty olive-green couch, squeezing myself under it’s sagging belly. My legs slid in easy, along with part of my tummy. There I hid half contorted, like a gummy worm stuck between the wall and the carpet.
I waited and waited for someone to come look for me.
I eventually climbed out numb and stiff.
No one seemed to miss me.
No matter how old we get or how strong we've grown, we can all use encouragement. We all find ourselves stuck in hard places --
-- we wonder if anyone notices.
-- we wonder if anyone cares.
When we are happy, is there someone I can dance the crazy-dance with?
When we are unsure, is there anyone I can talk to in run-on sentences and find them still listening?
When we're pressed against our everyday lives, we wonder if anyone sees.
Deep inside, we are all waiting for a chance to be known.
The times in my life I was most encouraged were the times I felt most invisible.
Because someone noticed. Someone was willing to spend time to listen. Or invite me out for coffee. Or ask. Or send an email.
There was more to the struggle or the excitement I was willing to reveal.
And her presence made all the difference to my heart.
But, it didn't happen initially when I was going through my season of anxiety and panic attacks.
Because I didn't tell anyone. I was very thin on friendships where I felt safe enough to be vulnerable and receive.
I didn't know it, but I had protected myself from past hurts of friends who betrayed me -- by soley surviving on just exercising my gift of encouragement. I didn't know how to reach out and choose to develop friendships where I could just be me, so that I could enjoy receiving encouragement.
It's not easy to find friends who you can confide in during times you're trying to figure out how you're feeling. When you're not looking for advice. When it's not about problem solving -- and you want to have a friend for soul sharing -- it's important not to give up on the journey to find soulful friendship.
So that you can be refreshed with encouragement.
I’m learning not everyone can touch that place of empty. Not everyone knows how to stay. But it doesn’t mean our search for friendship needs to end fruitless.
Encouragement is a Gift
It's kind of ironic, but sometimes the people who encourage others the most are the one most in need of encouragement.
So, give yourself the gift the encouragement: by sharing your story. By reaching out to call a friend -- to ask her out for coffee -- or invite her for a walk -- or send her an email -- and let her know how you're doing.
That's what I did last week. I'm still getting used to this. It's relatively new for me -- because I enjoy giving the gift of encouragement.
We know how to give out, but we find it difficult to stop, share vulnerably and receive.
I texted two of my friends and told them, "Do you guys want to go out for dinner? I need some girlfriend time to talk about something that's bothering me. And catch up with you guys too."
Before my journey of healing, I would be the one to always ask people out to see how they're doing and my heart found a lot of joy by being there for others.
But, now, God is inviting me to receive -- and that means being vulnerable to reach out to others. And also find friends who are the kind of people who can encourage by listening -- more than giving advice or fixing my problems.
But, I think it's worth the risk. My heart would not be as alive -- embracing both my scars and my blessings -- if it weren't for kindreds who are willing to share their stories too.
You are the ones that God sees and says with cheer:
"We all have different gifts, based on the grace given us... If it is encouraging, devote yourself to encouraging others." Romans 12:6-8
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." 1 Thess. 5:11
The spotlight is often given to the more "up-in-front" spiritual gifts like evangelism or teaching, both of which are very important.
But the spiritual gift of encouragement is no lesser just because it is hidden.
Jesus Himself encourages us with the work of giving in secret.
"...so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6:4
God Sees It All
God says He sees us -- and He values each us. The quiet ways that no one may ever know about. God knows. And He wants to encourage you through the voice of a friend. So that you can be refreshed and encouraged.
You are not invisible. You are highly cherished, appreciated and valued.
May God reward you with refreshment in return. But, we need to take the dare and risk vulnerability. We need to go on the journey to find friends we can be refreshed with.
So that we can continue to pour out and encourage. From a heart that has been refreshed. As the beloved.
"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." Proverbs 11:25
How has God been prompting you to get some soul refreshment from friends? How is God encouraging to nurture existing or seek out new friendships that are for soul sharing?
For more encouragement and words of rest for your soul, read Bonnie’s book Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, which garnered starred review praise from Publisher’s Weekly.
Bonnie Gray blogs at Faith Barista, serving up shots of faith in the daily grind. She has been named Top 6 Notable New Religion Authors by Publisher's Weekly and writes for DaySpring (in)courage, Revelant Magazine, spotlighted by Christianity Today and Catalyst Leadership. A UCLA graduate, Bonnie served as a missionary, ministry entrepreneur, and Silicon Valley high-tech professional. She lives in California with her husband, Eric, and their two sons.
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