If it were Spring I would have more appropriate photos for you. But as it is still Winter my bee friends are all snuggled away in their hive. So please enjoy some photos of my walk with my MOM on Saturday.
“Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word.”
The dream of a new start, a fresh beginning, a blank slate is a big part of something known around the world as the “American dream.” The opportunity to take a new path, to get off old roads and out of deep ruts has brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to this country. They moved away from the familiar and into the unknown with optimism and hope.
In 1873 Dr. Brewster Higley published a poem entitled “My Home on the Range,” which a few years later was set to music and became the state song of Kansas: “Home, Home, on the Range.” It's a “cowboy song,” a ballad to be belted out beneath the stars while watching over the herds and smelling the smoke of campfire. But Higley’s song about the wildlife and wide-open spaces includes one very human-oriented note.
Plopped in the middle of Higley’s description of a beautiful, natural setting, he thought it was important to proclaim “seldom is heard a discouraging word.” That is a human thing my friends. Deer and antelope and us dog, all animals really don’t “discourage” one another. But for those early settlers, no “discouraging word” for miles and miles meant that there was no honking hierarchy, no toxic turbo tongues, no nit-picking establishment measuring your every move, no clucking tongues looking over your shoulder and registering their disapproval. No discouraging word meant freedom from a culture of complaint and criticism, and people with a nonjudgmental spirit. No discouraging word meant the opportunity to live day to day doing the best one could without being measured against others and found wanting.
Ideally it's in the midst of family and friends where one should most seldom hear a “discouraging word.” But as members of a family, we all know each other’s foibles and flaws all too well. As family and friends we know exactly where to nit, where to pick, when to throw a withering glance, just how much cold shoulder to turn.
In 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul writes to the Corinthian church as his "family" in faith. Paul had personally founded that family, but it was now showing all the familiar signs of dysfunction junction. Discouraging words are not just being suggested, they are being slapped across each other’s faces.
As Paul opens his letter to this bickering band who are exhibiting about every “bad behavior” imaginable, his first words are words of encouragement, words of praise and words of thanksgiving for their ministry and mission. He reminds the Corinthian Christians that not only are they part of his spiritual family, but that they are “sanctified,” that they are among those who are “called to be saints.”
I would step out and dare to say if any of the peeps we know were writing this letter to such wayward and backward brothers and sisters, they'd start the letter with “What are you thinking?” “What planet are you living on?” “Where did you park your spaceship?” “Do you even remember one word I taught you?”
Not Paul. Paul offers not one “discouraging word” as he begins addressing this severely strained community. Instead he recalls for them how they have been deeply, eternally “enriched” through the gift of Christ Jesus. Despite the clubby infighting and failures of faith that he will later address, Paul first and foremost affirms that the Corinthian Christians are “not lacking in any spiritual gifts.” Paul calls them not just to strive for a life of faithfulness, but that they are to aspire to sainthood, as should be the goal of all those who follow Jesus and fellowship with each other.
Now that is an encouraging word. Paul doesn’t just say, “You can do better!” He affirms that they ARE better. His love for his “family” is first and foremost in his heart and words.
Paul is feeding his feuding faith family an infusion of “royal jelly” in order to help them grow into the fullness of what God has intended for all God’s children.
In the world of the honey bee, “royal jelly” is an extra nutritious mixture that is fed to all bee larvae, “baby bees,” the first three days of their lives by their nurse bees. It's a “superfood” that is packed with B vitamins and a unique element known as “royalactin.” But after those first three days only the bee larvae that are destined to become queen bees continue to get the “royal jelly”. The other bee larvae, deprived of the royal jelly, develop into drones or workers. It takes the “special sauce” of royal jelly to create a new queen bee, a creature who can reproduce and eventually lead a new hive into the world.
The gift of encouragement is “royal jelly” for all of us. It’s life’s true “special sauce.” One encouraging word can transform a life—from drone to queen.
In his classic “Meditations of the Heart,” African-American theologian and educator Howard Thurman tells the story of a man who was walking along the sidewalk at the close of the day. Near the curb a group of birds was pecking away, trying to open a pink paper bag. They seemed to be quarreling as they pecked. The man walked over to the spot and the birds took flight, settling at a respectful distance, watching. With his foot, he turned the bag over, examined it with care, and then emptied the bag of its content of breadcrumbs. When he had done this he resumed his walk with never a backward glance. As soon as he disappeared, the birds returned to find that a miracle had taken place. Instead of a tightly closed bag, there was before them a full abundance for satisfying their needs.
Any careful scrutiny of our lives reveals that we have been in the birds’ predicament again and again. Some great need of our life may have stopped us or blocked us, but then an unexpected stranger or unknown writer, or a comment from a friend triggered a miracle.
Thurman concludes, “However self-sufficient we are, our strength is always being supplied by others unknown to us, whose paths led them down our street or by our house at the moment that we needed the light they could give us. We are, all of us, the birds, and we are, all of us, the man.
When is the last time you offered an unscripted word of encouragement to a friend, a co-worker, spouse, child, partner, parent? When did you last apply some royal jelly to a grievance or a wound? When criticism lashes out at you, red in tooth and claw, did you keep it red, but red in forgiveness and compassion and royal jelly?
Social families, biological families, workday “families” are as imperfect today as were the families of faith Paul wrote to in the first century. We all still need to offer, not a “discouraging word,” but words of encouragement. Not mindless “atta boy” platitudes and self-esteem lies, but big dabs of royal jelly.
Instead of a “discouraging word” offer an encouraging word. Encourage someone to step forward alone. Or Encourage someone to reach back for one left behind. Encourage someone to take a plunge. Or Encourage someone to step back from a dangerous edge. Encourage someone to take a break. Or Encourage someone to make a break for it. Encourage someone to hold on to their reality. Or Encourage someone to reach out for a dream.