Cornelia competed in a triathlon this week - not an Iron Man or anything like that, just a mini-tri - 250 meters of swimming about four miles of biking and a mile and a half of running.
And she did pretty well finishing 7th in her age group.
But she said something that I thought was pretty profound - that even the smallest amount of encouragement made a huge difference. And that was in a small event in Manassas, and the encouragement came from strangers. What if someone you knew actually said encouraging things to you?
The word encourage literally means "to put courage into." The dictionary says it means to "inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence." It is the opposite of discourage - which means to take courage out of.
The Bible has a word that holds a similar meaning - edify. [For the Greek scholars out there, it's oikodome] It literally is a term taken from the building trades and means the act of building or building up. It also means "to increase the potential of someone or something with the focus on the process involved; to strengthen."
I was standing by the road as the cyclists were buzzing by during this triathlon, and I was clapping and shouting encouragement to them. And one guy - who I think ended up winning or being in at least the top three - as he whizzed past me looked up and said "thank you." This guy was a stranger, someone I didn't know, but he appreciated the encouragement.
And Cornelia told me the same thing. She said that when she was running, there were many times she thought of quitting. There were many times that she wanted to stop running and start walking, but she wanted to finish. And she did, as you can see in the picture. What made the difference? Encouragement. Just about the time she wanted to stop, someone - some stranger - would say "c'mon now you can do it!" Or the family members lining the route would begin to clap and cheer.
And when you got to the finish line, people would be cheering you and encouraging you - people who didn't know your name, but knew that you were in the race. And a scripture that kept going through my head as she said this was from the book of Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.(Heb 12:1)
Often times I am not an encourager. Often times I am more of a critic. But that takes courage out of people. It tears them down. My brother calls it "joining the Dark Chorus." If I have done that to anyone reading this, forgive me. I don't always get it right. Often times I get it wrong. But I did learn something - something that I will probably have to learn again, but something important nonetheless.