This past Tuesday I got up, took one child to school, went to the gym and ran 3 miles, came home and put in a load of laundry, cleaned the church for 3 hours, put in another load of laundry, cleaned our guest house for the visitors arriving that afternoon, mulched 2 flowerbeds, put in another load of laundry, made supper, and helped with homework. Most days also include homeschool, but Nate took care of that for the day, since I had enough on my plate.

So, why do I bore you with all of this? Am I fishing for compliments? No. (Seriously!) My point is simply to say that I, like so many people, am in a season of life where most of my work goes unnoticed. There are no promotions, no co-workers, and for most of my work, no salary. On the bright side, there are no performance reviews and no fear of getting fired.

For those of us who are in a season like this, encouragement becomes crucial. Everyone needs encouragement, of course, and many spheres of life have this built into them, as it were. Even the most menial job has some encouragement in the form of a paycheck. In school, good teachers provide a supportive environment and kind words to their students. But for the person whose life and work is based primarily at home, encouragement can be hard to find. It often seems as if no one notices the jobs we do….until we don’t do them, and the laundry baskets overflow, the dishes pile up, and the children run wilder than usual!

My husband, to his great credit, grasped this point early on. He has always been quick to give me a compliment and encouraging word in the midst of domestic chaos. Even today, when we are past the toddler stage, he will thank me for the work that I do, and recognize that I do it. It’s a “small” thing, and takes him 10 seconds, but it’s powerful. The truth is, for the stay at home parent, our spouse and children are the primary people who benefit from our work, and ideally should be the main source of our encouragement. I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.

Children, alas, are pretty bad at this. It’s a rare child who says “Mom, thanks so much for trying to raise me right.” “Mom, thanks for all the years you washed my clothes and took me to the doctor.” And even the most loving spouse can be overwhelmed by their own responsibilities, and overlook ours.

Still, I want to encourage anyone who is reading this, no matter what your current season or role in life, to think about how we (not our mother in law, child, or spouse) can grow in giving encouragement. Like anything else, it’s a skill that can be learned. The key is to jump in and practice! It may feel awkward at first, but most people aren’t going to pick apart a compliment or word of encouragement – they’re going to be too surprised or happy to quibble. The more I step out of my comfort zone and build others up, the easier it becomes. “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38).

Encouragement is powerful. Some years ago one of our children had a complete and epic meltdown in the grocery store. As I walked through the aisles, desperately trying to finish the shopping and keep my temper in the face a constantly crying child, an older lady passed me, smiled encouragingly, and said “I admire your equilibrium.” At that moment I felt as though I had all the equilibrium of a bowl of Jell-o…but apparently that didn’t show on the outside! Her smile and remark gave me the courage to finish shopping with some semblance of dignity, and came back to me other times in moments of parenting stress. Clearly someone out there thought I had equilibrium…so I did! It took this unknown woman 5 seconds of her day to say those words, but her effort has blessed me many times since then.

Who can you encourage today? If someone’s name popped into your head, don’t let fear hold you back. A compliment, a hug, a note or a smile can send ripples of kindness and hope into someone’s life. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)