back to my friend from youth group. We were about 16 at the time and I was really struggling with terribly low self esteem. Her cries of 'You're the best Jenny' were a genuine attempt to encourage and cheer me up. But they didn't help. In my heart I just didn't feel 'the best'. Because you know what? I wasn't the 'best'. I was a fallen, sinful human who deeply felt the weight of her failings.
For many years I struggled with this and it wasn't until my late teens that I changed. What changed me was that I recognised that if God (the all powerful, perfect God), loved and valued me enough to send Jesus for ME, then who I was to continue to place such a low value on myself? It truly changed my perspective on my place and purpose in the world.
What I'd really needed at that time was someone to point this out to me. To keep reminding me of what was truly important.
And I think this is where we can get encouragement wrong. What we often say is a version of 'You're the best'. Things like 'You're so friendly, I love that about you' or 'You're so talented at kid's ministry, I really think that's great' or 'You're the best Mum EVA' or 'You have such lovely kids'. Which is all nice to hear, but just quietly, on the inside you kind of know that you might not always be the friendliest person or the nicest Mum or the most talented at kid's work.
Of course none of these are bad things to say (assuming they're true!). But I'd like to suggest that as Christians what we can offer each other is something so much richer, so much more valuable and something so much more sustaining.
More to come - but I think that real encouragement comes a lot less from focussing on me (or you for that matter), and much more from dwelling on the God who ultimately gives us our value and purpose in His creation.