It’s been exactly a year since Lisa went into surgery to have her tumor removed. That morning, she told me she wanted two things. First, she wanted me holding her hand and praying for her as she was taken away, and second, she wanted to wake up from sedation without the breathing tube still in her mouth (which would signal they didn’t have to remove a large portion of her lung) and with me holding her hand telling her the most beautiful words of encouragement possible in that situation: “It’s not cancer.”
That became my fervent prayer. I pleaded with God to allow me the opportunity to say the words of encouragement – “it’s not cancer” – to my wife, his daughter. By his grace, I was able to hold my wife’s hand in the recovery room, brush the hair from her groggy eyes, the same gentle eyes I’ve looked into first thing in the morning for the past thirty-four years, and be the first to tell her, “It’s not cancer. It’s not cancer. You’re going to be okay. Now it’s just about getting better.”
I was beyond grateful to God for allowing me to deliver those words of encouragement to my wife.
I was reminded of this encounter when I read the Apostle Paul’s admonition for us to “Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It was such a blessing to be able to encourage my wife in the hospital, but would I carry that same attitude home?
Paul obviously wasn’t talking to husbands whose wives were in the hospital. Paul wasn’t writing to wives whose husbands had just been fired. As a matter of course, in the normal patterns of life, he wants us to deliver words of encouragement, healing words, to others every day, beginning with our spouse.
Though my wife’s body was attacked by a tumor, her soul is consistently attacked by unkind words, the spiritual rebellion of those she loves, her own imperfections, and negative self-talk. Every spouse regularly experiences these “soul attacks.” We can be the dissenting voice speaking encouraging words of assurance, hope, and comfort.
What if we prayed, “Lord, please give me at least two words of encouragement for my spouse today?”
“Lord, I’m asking for some supernatural insight to build up my husband/wife. What are two words of encouragement you would have me say?”
What if we waited eagerly for our spouse to come home so that we could share with them what God inspired us to say? Wouldn’t that be better than “holding a fight” inside, just waiting to unleash on them as soon as we have a moment alone?
We don’t have to wait until there’s a potentially life-altering illness, a betrayal, or a personal failure to encourage and build up our spouse. But when others do launch an assault, that’s the time for us to step up and put encouragement into hyper drive.
“No, you’re not the worst dad in the world; you’re one of the best! I’m so proud of the way you love our kids.”
“Your boss doesn’t understand how good she has it to have you working for her.”
“I only wish others could see the wonder of you the way I do; then they’d be knocking each other over to include you in their lunches instead of excluding you.”
Let’s be our spouse’s chief encourager. No one else can offer them words of encouragement the way we can. Their parents may favor other siblings; their friends may get too busy to call; young children may resent being told “no” and older children may be too busy to call. It’s our job to survey whatever threatens our spouse’s physical and spiritual well-being and cooperate with God to say, “I have some good news for you. Some wonderful news…”
It was such a joy to have words of encouragement for my wife in the hospital, but I pray that year old episode will become a more regular pattern of encouragement in the years ahead.
“Encourage one another and build each other up.”
P.S. I realize as I re-read this that many of you woke up from surgeries only to be told, “It is cancer” and had to face a very long road of recovery. I share a special prayer for you that God will comfort you, heal you and encourage you in the days ahead, and that He will give your spouse extra grace to serve you and support you during this difficult time.