- to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope: hearten
- to attempt to persuade: urge
- to spur on: stimulate
- to give help or patronage to: foster
- to give support, confidence, or hope to
- the ability to do something that frightens one: bravery
- strength in the face of pain or grief
- mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
I’ve been pondering over the word encourage for the past couple weeks: what it means, how it’s done. I find it telling that the heart of the word is heart: cor (Latin), cuore (Italian), couer (French). The truest, best encouragement comes from one whose heart is in tune with your heart, one who knows what fears you face, what challenges daunt you, what pain you bear.
One who would encourage doesn’t say, “I encourage you to go out and overcome your obstacles (or do a great work) (or persevere through enormous difficulty), and let me know when you’ve done it.” A true encourager opens his own heart and says, “Here is the reason we have for hope. I see in you the promise of glory. Let us walk together, sharing our bravery and our strength.”
As I was rereading The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper this morning, this phrase, which I hadn’t particularly noticed before, stood out to me: ‘You will be frightened, often, but never fear them (the powers of the Dark).’
What’s the difference between being frightened and fearing? Having consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s, I think I understand that the distinction between fright and fear has to do with onset and duration. Fright can be defined as a sudden intense feeling of fear, excited by unexpected danger; fear has an element of anticipation and expectation of something unpleasant, painful, or threatening.
So what I believe the author is saying is that while it is natural to sometimes be frightened, confronted without warning with startling or dangerous circumstances, we must not dwell on those experiences and let them grow into a belief that bad things will happen to us around every bend.
Sometimes shadows hide things. It’s easy to image in the near-dark of late dusk that they cloak monsters or wild animals or evil men, waiting for the last light to fade completely before they leap (or creep) out to attack us. We think that perhaps if we sit very, very still, don’t bat an eyelash, don’t make a sound, barely dare to breathe, we can pass the night unmolested. Or maybe we’re paralyzed because the shadows are concealing our way. We don’t go forward for fear of missing a signpost or a fork in the road, or stepping off into a mire of quicksand or over the edge of an unseen precipice.
Those dangers are, of course, real possibilities, and sometimes — sometimes — sitting down and waiting for the light to return before moving on may be the wisest course of action. But not always, and never permanently. We can’t stay forever in the makeshift huts we build ourselves on the edges of the shadowy places, which, if we’re at all honest, we know don’t offer any real protection anyway. Sometimes we need to look at the shadows differently through the last shreds of sunset or the final flickers of our guttering torches. This is affirmed in another definition of the word: shelter from danger or observation.
Sometimes shadows hide us, screening us from they eyes of those who would harm us, providing us cover to slip past hostile sentinels unnoticed. They may, blessedly, shroud obstacles we would think insurmountable, or veil perils that would freeze our blood if we could see them clearly. Perhaps they prevent our being deceived into taking what would look, in broad daylight, like a shortcut or an easier road to our intended destination. Shadows might make us more alert to the soft touch of a guiding hand, more apt to hear a still, small voice.