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I just heard about a hotline started by a California art teacher, Jessica Martin, and her elementary school students. Anyone can call and hear pre-recorded messages of encouragement, in English or Spanish, from this group of kids: “Press one if you’re feeling mad or frustrated. Press two if you’re feeling stressed out or nervous. If you’re sad press three. Press four if you want to hear the sound of children laughing in delight…”

Like that. It’s really great. The kids suggest taking deep breaths, treating yourself to ice cream, remembering that it’s okay to be different, etc… At one point earlier this month, the line was receiving over 11,000 calls an hour.

The article didn’t say what, precisely, prompted the project. But I imagine that it had something to do with the fact that pretty much everybody is mad, frustrated, stressed out, sad, and frequently in need of the healing sound of children’s delighted laughter. If you are experiencing any of the above, I suggest that you call the hotline at 707-998-8410.

One of my teachers in ministerial school offered, “Sunday services are simply about finding 52 different ways every year to tell people that they’re loved.” I’ve found that it’s usually a bit more complicated than that, but still this is something that I’ve tried to keep in mind.

Lately, it’s felt like we all want not only to be told that we’re loved but also to be reminded that we’re really okay, that things are going to work out, that a world of harmony and beauty is still possible. That’s what I crave, anyway, what I’m trying hard to remember for myself. Because it’s awfully easy to get dragged under by despair. Sometimes it takes exceptional commitment and energy to stay positive and hopeful, to keep on keeping on, to believe in a kind and loving future.

A few weeks ago I read a short blog post by Seth Godin about the difference between encouragement and reassurance. He wrote: “Reassurance always runs out. Reassurance implies that the only reason to go forward is because it’s certain to work. Reassurance is futile. Encouragement means that someone sees us, understands us and believes in us. Even (especially) when things don’t turn out as we hoped. Encouragement lasts. Encouragement is self-fueling and self-fulfilling.”

I always look up the etymology of words to nitpick their significance. Because at first I was struck that I often use reassurance and encouragement synonymously. But now I was wondering if maybe they are, in fact, opposites.

To “encourage” means to give heart, to make strong. “Reassurance” is related to the word “secure,” as in safe. Giving strength and promising security aren’t exactly oppositional ideas — they go together in an interesting way. The tone, however, is quite different. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps? The former calls something forth, the latter suggests receptivity and repose.

I want it both ways. Surprise, surprise. I propose that we claim the both/and — reassurance and encouragement, serene security and bold-hearted creativity.

I’ve been mulling it over, and I do think that Godin makes a good point. While I don’t agree that reassurance is “futile,” it seems like he’s probably on to something in terms of how it tends to peter out. 52 weeks of reassurance can get a little stale in the face of trouble after trouble. “It’s all God and it’s all Good” may be a reassuring statement, but sometimes it sure sounds glib, and it’s pretty tough to swallow when we’re in pain. “Everything is unfolding in divine perfection,” no matter how soothing, often (usually) lands for me like a willful disconnection from reality.

Encouragement, though… Encouragement is always helpful, come rain or come shine. It applies, no matter what. Encouragement doesn’t depend on the outcomes we’d hoped for, or circumstances lining up how we think they’re supposed to. It doesn’t even demand that we believe in a just and loving universe.

Encouragement invites us to believe in ourselves and each other. Which, for me, seems like the only way we’re ever going to create anything like a just and loving universe.

Reassurance certainly has its place. Absolutely, we do need to let go sometimes and relax into a Love that will simply hold us. We need to be able to open our hearts to the promise that everything will be alright, and give ourselves a break from needing to be the ones who will figure it out and toil onward uphill to make it happen.

Still, when life is calling us to be and bring that which we wish to see in the world, to be and bring the change we seek, encouragement provides a much-needed boost:

Yeah, it’s hard. Every one of us is dealing with fears and frustrations, grief and anger. We’ve got very real challenges before us. It’s going to take determination and fortitude and grit to address them. We’re going to get stretched and grown beyond anything we knew of our capacities. And I believe in you. You’re stronger than you know. You can do it and you’re not alone. We will do it together.

The “together” part is, for me, the reassurance. “Together” is where I place my faith and trust — in the idea that there’s nothing we can’t achieve, no problem we can’t solve, together.

Together is Divine.

I think the trick is to be reassured and find comfort in that, but not in a placating, pacifying way. Rather, we learn to take heart so that we can give heart. Accepting reassurance enough that we can encourage ourselves and each other to bring our whole hearts, our authentic selves, to life.

I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, March 20, 10:00 am at Maple Street Dance Space. Happy springtime, loved ones. XO, Drew

©2022 Drew Groves

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