My three grandsons are typical brothers. There are those times when they play together beautifully and typify the words “loving” and “sharing.” Then there are those moments when sibling rivalry rears its ugly head like the Lock Nest Monster, changing calm waters into a turbulent flood of discontent. The “love” and “sharing” can change as quickly as a thunderstorm intruding upon a beautiful and cloudless summer afternoon.
On a recent visit to the home of my grandsons, who live in Maryland, they were down stairs playing. You could hear their harmonious laughter that drifted upstairs like beautiful music. You could sense their youthful enthusiasm and energy, contagiously infecting the air. Then it happened. The laughter, without warning, was replaced with loud angry voices and then crying. The positive energy that was being experienced quickly turned to bad vibes. I could hear unhappy footsteps hurriedly coming up the stairs. The middle grandson, Tyler, tearfully said with a broken voice, “Papa, Wyatt called me a porcupine word.”
Now I realize each generation attaches different meanings to various words that the previous generation has trouble deciphering. I was puzzled as to what he meant. I know what a porcupine is, but I was ignorant as to the meaning of “a porcupine word.” Like Sherlock Holmes I had to investigate the situation. Upon questioning Tyler, it seems his older brother called him a name. Asking what a porcupine word was he told me, “It is a word that sticks in you like a porcupine and hurts.”
Ah, out of the mouth of babes comes wisdom.
As we all journey on the dusty road of life how much better to speak to one another words of encouragement than hurtful words that stick one another like the quills from a porcupine. The word encouragement means “to come along side of.” Everyone needs someone to come along side of them to help them through tough times. Are not the Epistles of Paul in large part letters of encouragement to struggling young Christians who are plowing down a rocky row? The Bible exhorts us to encourage one another daily (Hebrews 3:13).
The Scottish theologian William Barclay stated, “One of the highest of human duties is the duty of encouragement…It is easy to laugh at men’s ideals; it is easy to pour cold water on their enthusiasm; it is easy to discourage others. The world is full of discouragers. We have a Christian duty to encourage one another. Many a time a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a man on his feet. Blessed is the man who speaks such a word.”
Everyone needs someone to come along side of them to help them through those tough times, for life, like a boxer throwing a sucker punch, has a way of knocking us dizzy on occasions. We need each others help at times to make it through the next round. Encouragement is oxygen to a soul gasping for breath in its struggle for survival.
One of my favorite characters in the Book of Acts is Barnabas. We extol the virtues of Paul, John, Peter, Silas and James, and rightly so, but we often overlook Barnabas whose name means “son of consolation.” Wherever you find him you find him encouraging someone. When no one else wanted to become involved in a controversial situation or with a person of questionable character or motives, there you find Barnabas speaking words of encouragement. Porcupine words were not part of his vocabulary. They should not be part of ours either when dealing with fellow weary travelers.
Instead of hurling porcupine words at someone, why not speak words that will lift-up and strengthen those who are struggling. And you can be assured that whoever crosses our path each day is struggling with something that is hid from us. I have learned through over four decades of pastoring and coaching that you get a lot more out of people when you encourage them, let them know you believe in them, and that regardless of their situation they can get through it victoriously with the Good Lord’s help. And I have also learned that in encouraging others we in return encourage ourselves.
So, let us be about the business of speaking words of encouragement to one another. And above all else, let us not utter any porcupine words!