Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:14
The Greeks had a word for “encouragement” that was quite similar to our understanding of empathy. It came from the idea of being with someone in their story. That’s the word Paul uses here for helping the disheartened. Disheartened people are basically those who have lost some of their hope.
In our reading for today, Paul urges us to be our best selves for everyone we encounter. Some people find that easier to do than others do. People who are disheartened can be a bit difficult to spend time with. The emotions of others tend to affect us, so we might prefer to be with people who have happiness and excitement to share. But Paul points out that to be truly Christlike, we also need to give our time to those who are struggling.
It’s interesting that Paul also goes on to tell us to “rejoice always” (v. 16). Entering into a disheartening story should not dishearten us. It might make us sad or angry, but it shouldn’t cause us to lose hope.
With hope we retain joy despite the sadness or anger we may feel with a disheartened friend, because we know that the disheartening things of this world do not have the final say. And we can bring that hope and joy into the other person’s story, doing so in a way that shows they are not alone. With that simple action, we can help to change their story by being a part of it.
Jesus, as you have entered into our stories, shared our pains, and yet become our hope, let us be like you for others. Amen.