I still remember the advice given to my wife and I by a parenting expert many years ago: “Catch them doing something right.” He was particularly talking about the more testing child who is generally only used to negative comments: “Don’t hit your sister!”, “Don’t gobble your food!”, “Don’t speak to me like that!” The problem is, when the ear never hears praise, the heart loses the will to try.
But the concept of “Catch them doing something right” is a sound one in areas beyond parenting. One of the best-selling management books of all time is The One Minute Manager (Harper). In it, the authors talk about the effectiveness in work situations of taking just 60 seconds a day to tell people when they are doing well: “That report was spot on. Thanks!”, “Great talk today!” And yet so many of us find it hard to praise – a friend, a child, a church leader, perhaps a husband or wife.
Many years ago, I was taken by a guide into the Sinai desert. It was a fascinating journey, and I vividly remember one experience in particular. The guide stopped the jeep and showed me a special bush. He told me that this plant had a rare ability which ensured its survival in that hostile environment. It had learned to live with very little water. When a drought came, other vegetation would quickly wither, but this bush died in sections: perhaps half of it would close down and the rest would use whatever moisture it could find. And then, as the drought progressed, the plant would shut down other parts of itself until finally there might be just a single stem alive, waiting for the rain. When the rain came, the seed pods on that stem would explode and send new life bursting into the desert again.
I often meet people who are like that plant. But instead of water, what they crave is a little appreciation. They long to hear an affirming word of encouragement and, if and when it is spoken, it can change not just their day but their life. The book of Proverbs talks about words having the power to bring “healing to the bones”; a simple word of encouragement can penetrate to the very heart of our being.
Most of us know this. So why do we find it hard to give a simple word of encouragement to others? To catch people doing something right? Perhaps we’re uncomfortable about giving praise, feeling that it’s all a bit too emotional. Perhaps nobody has ever praised us, so we find it hard to affirm someone. Maybe we are scared they will ask for a pay rise! Or perhaps we enjoy far more the satisfaction of pointing out the error, the poor choice of clothes, the wayward child’s behaviour, the slight mistake in Sunday’s sermon. In bringing others down, we somehow feel lifted ourselves.
And yet, even if sometimes we are a bit like that, we all have within us the power to change: to lay aside our sarcasm (which for too long we have called “wit”), our ‘helpful’ comments “because I simply want the best for you”, and even our incessant “I think God might want me to tell you this…” Instead, we can discover the sheer joy of bringing words of life to somebody who is dry and thirsty. I wonder if there might be somebody we know – a friend, a child, a husband, a wife, a church leader, or a colleague – who feels like that plant in the desert.
Perhaps we can help. If so, it won’t be just the sound of our footsteps coming towards them. It will be the life-changing, soul-refreshing, “bone healing” sound of…rain.