Encouragement is so important, isn't it? It's amazing what a difference an encouraging word can make in someone's life. And it doesn't always have to be words, I know that there have been different people who have encouraged me with something as simple as a hug or a smile.
One of my favorite "Hide 'Em in Your Heart" songs is based on 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV ("Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing").
But encouraging someone isn't always as simple as smiling at them, is it? Sometimes it means getting out of our comfort zone and risking rejection or embarrassment (even though not many people reject encouragement, we can sometimes still feel like they will). Unfortunately, I don't know any way of getting over the awkward feeling of stepping out of our comfort zones except to do it over and over. I have to confess that I'm not very good at this, but "practice makes perfect", and I'm going to give you a few ideas on how to 'practice' starting with the least awkward. :-)
1. Smile at people! You might be amazed at how attractive and uplifting a smile is. If you've ever smiled at someone and not had them respond, you know that it's always a bit of a let down when you don't get a smile back. I've had bad days where I went to the store and a total stranger smiled at me and it really did make my day better. :-)
2. Serve people. Now I'm not necessarily talking about painting someone's house or doing their laundry. Simply getting someone a glass of water or helping them cut up vegetables for lunch can encourage them.
3. Give a hug! A hug is a very efficient and simple way to encourage someone without words. Sometimes you might find that someone gets tears in their eyes when you hug them and, assuming that you weren't just squeezing them too hard, that's a sure sign that they really needed that hug. (Now, obviously there are people that you wouldn't feel comfortable hugging, and that's fine. You should never hug anyone that you feel creeped out by, and probably you would only want to hug your friends and family anyways.)
4. Write a note or send an e-card to someone telling them that you are glad that you are friends (or sisters, or cousins, or whatever), and say something that you specifically like about them. (i.e. "Dear Martha, I am so glad that we are friends. Your patience with the little children really challenges and encourages me to be more patient. Thank you so much for your example! Love, Joy" ~ of course you're supposed to insert your friend's name and your name in the place of "Martha" and Joy! ~)
5. Listen to them. Simply listening can make a huge difference to someone and be very encouraging.
6. Tell someone something that you like about them ("I love the way you reply to letters so quickly").
7. Encourage them in the area that they really need it. This can be a little more tricky because, unless they have specifically confided in you, they might feel as though you are picking on them instead of encouraging them. Even if they have confided in you, sometimes this idea backfires and they get upset so use at your own discretion.
When you are a wife, you will be your husband's main encourager and 'cheerleader' (can anyone think of a better word than 'cheerleader'?), so if you can practice encouraging and cheering on your family, friends, ect. now, you will have a head start on knowing how to do it when you get married.
There are many ways that you can encourage people, and some of them are as simple as doing the job your Mom asked you to the FIRST time she asks. Use your imagination and encourage people in your everyday life. (On a side note, did you know that simply living a Christian life can encourage others?)