It’s more common than not to think of encouragement as some kind of gratuitous saying, that slides out of your mouth without much thought. Or, maybe we think of it as a pat on the back.

True encouragement, however, takes intention, listening, and the willingness to get off the sidelines and take a stand.

There are times in every single person’s life when we need someone to give us a nudge, a shove in the direction of our dreams - especially when it means leaving the safety of our comfortable lives.

True encouragement is sometimes tough. It’s telling someone a truth they need to hear. It sows the seeds of possibility.

We might have a brilliant idea that we start on and when it doesn’t get traction immediately, we want to give up and quit. Or, we might be aiming for something that feels so hard and so high that we find ourselves shrinking before we even start.

We may have been knocked down a couple of times and need someone to lean down and offer a hand to help us start again.

Ken Burns in his brilliant new series on Country Music tells the story of Hank Williams, Jr. and how, after his father was killed, his mother made him learn all his daddy’s music and play it exclusively only, with no allowance given for time to create his own music.

When he was eighteen, he fired his mother as his manager and left home. He was standing on a high hill in Montana when he slipped and fell 500 ft. It took surgeons seven hours to put him back together.

Johnny Cash and his wife flew up to be with him during his recovery. When he did finally recover, Waylon Jennings, who knew his family, offered to help him cut a recording of his own songs.

Could he have emerged as the unique creative artist he is on his own without Johnny Cash showing him love and care and Jennings helping him get started? Probably- but it might have taken twice as long and no one will ever know whether he would have become the artist he is today.

We live in a bootstrap society where we think we have to do something completely on our own. And yet, it is so much more meaningful when we have others who have seen our gifts, at times invisible to us. Those who tell us to keep going, who kick us in the rear end and won’t stop until we, so tired of hearing them, that we get our engine started. They are the ones with whom we celebrate our wins with thankful hearts that they kept pestering us until we acted.

Break the word apart and it means to put courage in. When our tank is empty, we’re always grateful to have someone standing by with some courage to share.