Several years ago I accidentally eavesdropped on a conversation I will never forget.
I was walking Jude to class and we took a shortcut across the first-grade blacktop. Children were busy playing hopscotch and four square, absorbed in their own asphalt worlds. Suddenly a little girl bolted from a nearby classroom and ran right in front of us toward another girl, shouting, “There’s a new student! We have a new student!”
Her friend lunged toward her with a skip and a hop. Eyes wide with delight, she shouted back, “A new student? In our class?”
The first friend nodded yes and both girls broke into glorious grins and galloped toward the brick building to welcome their new friend. Yes, it was beautifully obvious that they had already decided this new student would be their friend. Without knowing the student’s race or gender, whether they packed a lunch or would buy in the cafeteria, without knowing the color of their hair or if they wore glasses, before knowing if this student liked soccer or handball or My Little Pony, they wanted this student to be their friend. These girls didn’t need to know if the new student would get picked up by their dad or go to daycare, whether they were good at reading or math or needed extra help with everything . . . without knowing anything other than the promise of their presence, the two first graders unconditionally accepted their peer.
I wish I could have followed the girls inside that classroom to witness the moment that new student received their warm welcome. Would the gift of instant friends ease the knot in their stomach? Would the bright smiles of those eager to meet them turn nervous fidgeting into a shared grin? I think it’s safe to say that being enthusiastically accepted made a big difference in the new student’s day — maybe it even impacted their whole week, year, or school career.
I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if we all embraced someone new and unknown with the same excitement as those wide-eyed and tenderhearted six-year-olds. As adults, we like to wait and size people up. We’re tentative about opening our hearts, minds, or lives to others before going through a thorough checklist. Whether it’s intentional or subconscious, we go through an “Are you worthy of my attention and affection” evaluation.
We wait to see how many boxes a new person will tick that align with our preferences:
Political or religious views
Family makeup and dynamics
Culinary likes, dislikes, and skills
Do they have Disneyland hookups or a retail discount I could take advantage of?
We withhold our friendship until we know whether we will get along or if they always wear that much perfume. Have you ever been guilty of judging someone by a first impression? Maybe even assigning value based on their surface appearance? Gulp. I have. And if you’re honest, I’m guessing you’re not exempt either.
It’s not that every person needs to be a BFF or trusted confidant or an intimate part of our lives. But every person does deserve to be respected and treated with kindness. So rather than leading with subtle scrutiny and secret judgment, what if we made acceptance our default? What would happen if we automatically saw the new guy at work or the woman behind us at church, the family that just moved in next door, or the parent standing alone on the soccer sidelines as a welcomed new friend? What would happen if we treated every “new kid” (young or old ) as wanted, welcomed, delighted in?
Sit with that for a minute.
Often, when we think of encouragement, we think of building up, complimenting, or supporting the people already intertwined in our lives — our spouse or sibling, child or parent, coworker or best friend. That is so good and beautiful and necessary. But at its core, encouragement stems from the basic acknowledgment that every person deserves to be seen, valued, and accepted. So it’s not just the kind words we say, but the welcome that we live.
Here’s the great news: We can all be encouragers wherever we are, wherever we go! We can invite the new parent at the PTA meeting to sit next to us. We can hold the door for the mom whose arms are full of groceries and babies. We can smile wide and say hello to the neighbor who speaks a different language. We can leave a little potted plant on the new girl’s desk at work with a sticky note that says, “Welcome to the team. I’m here if you need anything.” We can acknowledge someone we cross paths with today, look them in the eye, and tell them we’re so glad they’re here.
After dropping Jude off, I walked back across the blacktop, through the freshly cut grass, and out the rear school gate with a smile stretched across my face. Two six-year-olds were simple difference makers — not only to the new students they welcomed but to me — a thirty-something woman who merely overheard their kindness was impacted. And now the ripple extends to you as I share their story. The students at Cullen Elementary School were there to learn, yet able to teach so much.
May the learning (and jump-for-joy encouraging welcome) continue with us.
This article is an adapted excerpt from Becky’s book The Simple Difference: How Every Small Kindness Makes a Big Impact. Snag a copy for more heartwarming stories and practical ways to live a life of kindness and encouragement every day.
“Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice. Therefore welcome one another, just as Christ also welcomed you, to the glory of God.”
Romans 15:5-7 CSB
September 12th is National Day of Encouragement, a day set aside to bring encouragement to others. As a valued member of the (in)courage and DaySpring community, we know you share encouragement all year round – thank you! We want to help you be ready to cheer on others not only on the National Day of Encouragement, but on any day.
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