|For some time Iíd been
struggling unsuccessfully to ride a two-wheel bicycle. Like
every young child, I longed to break that barrier, but just
couldn't do it. I kept
repeating the same ritual--pedaling a few yards until the bike
began to tilt, then putting out my foot to break the fall. My
problem wasnít lack of ability but lack of confidence. A
two-wheel bike has to be moving at more than a snailís pace to
stay upright. But I was frightened to pedal fast enough to
produce the necessary thrust, afraid I would wipe out severely.
Dad was convinced I would learn to balance and kept reassuring
me. His confidence inspired me to keep trying. With his help, I
was able to enjoy the fantasy of conquering the two-wheeler for
brief periods. He would hold the seat of my bike and run
alongside while I pedaled furiously. We would make good headway
for a block or two, till he got winded. I was adamant about one
thing, though: he must not take his hand off the seat. I kept
reminding him again and again.
One day he decided to trust his own judgment. After ambling
through several hilly blocks, we came to a long level stretch. I
began pedaling hard and picked up a head of steam. The momentum
felt great, and I turned my head to smile at Dad. Only then did
I realize that he hadnít been holding on to the bike at all, but
was standing with arms folded a block behind me, grinning from
ear to ear. I had accomplished my first solo bike ride without
My victory with the two-wheeler was possible for a single
reason: my father believed in me more than I believed in myself.
He kept encouraging me to try, then pulled his hand off the seat
at just the right moment, so I would discover for myself that I
could do it. He believed in me to the point that I succeeded.
It was one of those landmark childhood experiences that set
the tone for my life. At so many important turning points,
others--like my dad with the bike--have seen my potential better
than I have. Their confidence, encouragement and wise counsel
have inspired me to move forward. Itís humbling to realize how
dependent Iíve been upon their help.
I suspect youíll say the same. When we think carefully over
our life, we find that God has used people with high
expectations of us to prod us forward at many critical times.
Their help has been essential whenever weíve been able to reach
a cherished goal or take a major step of faith.
The Substantial Impact of Othersí Expectations
How greatly we need the influence of people who see us
dynamically. Like it or not, othersí expectations affect us, and
Far too often the effect is negative. Those whom we look to
for encouragement may have no vision for us at all. Or they may
lock in to a wrong impression of us, or hold relentlessly to an
old impression that no longer fits us--the familiarity problem
that Jesus encountered when he returned to his boyhood town of
Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6).
The effect of othersí static expectations can be stifling. A
friend in her forties told me that her parents still think of
her as sixteen. ďAnd when Iím with them, thatís exactly how I
act,Ē she added. The default mode for each of us is to rise or
fall to the expectations others have of us. Even Jesus, in
taking on our humanness, allowed himself to be influenced by
othersí expectations. Mark notes bluntly that when Jesus
returned to Nazareth, ďHe could not do any miracles thereĒ (Mk
Even when someone has high expectations of us, they may be
based on that personís own ideals or ego needs and have nothing
to do with our actual potential or Godís intentions for our
life. How many parents push a child to succeed in some area
foreign to his or her aspirations and gifts.
Yet God also brings into our life people with high
expectations of us that are based on a good understanding of our
potential. These people resonate with our personal dreams and
have the grace and wisdom to help us accomplish them. They are
the blessed souls who see us dynamically. Such individuals are
incomparable gifts of God to us, peerless friends who help us
realize his best.
Those who view us dynamically benefit us in three important
ways. One is through their optimism. Weíre far more
suggestible than we normally assume. Weíre affected greatly by
the attitudes of those around us, and are especially prone to
absorb othersí feelings about us. Someoneís
confidence that we can succeed soothes our insecurities and
helps us gain the courage we need to take bold steps.
Typically, too, those who see us dynamically are the ones
best able to help us with their counsel. Those who see our
potential better than we do often grasp most clearly the steps
we need to take to realize our goals. Not all positive thinkers
we encounter are wise counselors, to be sure. But those who are
able to inspire us by both their optimism and their counsel
provide us an immeasurable service.
In addition, those with high expectations of us often find
creative ways to nudge us into taking challenging steps. From
the parent who takes his hand off the bike at just the right
moment, to the baseball coach who risks putting us fourth in the
batting lineup, to the friend who sets us up on a blind date
with the person who becomes our spouse--supportive people find
inventive ways to help us grow and realize our dreams.
Facing Our Need for Supportive People
Most of us greatly underestimate our need for supportive people. We
may assume that being Christian means we should look to God
alone for help. The rugged individualism of our American
culture, too, can drive us to think weíre more fully human if
weíre able to solve our problems on our own, with as little
assistance from others as possible.
There is no question that God often helps us directly,
without any human aiding the effort. Yet Scripture never
encourages us to presume upon this happening. God takes
us through an interesting odyssey in the Christian life. On the
one hand, he wants to teach us that he is all-sufficient to meet
our needs. From time to time, he puts us through experiences to
drive home the point that we can draw astounding help from him,
and that we shouldnít lean unfairly on other people.
Yet he also wants us to understand that he has made us to be
social creatures, and that he frequently uses others as his
agents to provide us with encouragement, motivation, direction
and support. As soon as we learn the first lesson, it seems,
itís time to learn the second!
When Moses took on the leadership of Israel, he first had to
learn the lesson of depending on God alone. God needed to wean
him of an unhealthy dependence on Aaron as his personal
But in time his needs changed radically. In Exodus 18 we find
that Moses isnít depending enough upon other peopleís
help. The Israelites are well into their journey through the
desert, and Moses is booked to the teeth with responsibility. On
a typical day he ďtook his seat to serve as judge for the
people, and they stood around him from morning till eveningĒ (Ex
Mosesí father-in-law, Jethro, then comes to visit. Shocked at
how overextended Moses has become, Jethro admonishes, ďWhat you
are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will
only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you
cannot handle it aloneĒ (Ex 18:18). He urges Moses to share his
responsibilities with other capable leaders, and suggests a
process for doing so.
Moses follows Jethroís advice and delegates many tasks. The
steps he took to divide up his responsibility probably added
years to his life, and certainly increased the quality of his
life and leadership in many ways.
From Mosesí experience in this passage we learn two lessons
about our need for othersí help. One is the importance of
letting others share our burdens and assist us with
responsibility that is too much for us. The other is our need
for the enlightenment God provides us through other people.
Hereís what I find most striking about this incident: Moses
communicated with God more directly and intimately than anyone
else in the Old Testament (Ex 33:11, Deut 34:10). God often gave
Moses explicit guidance; God revealed to him in exacting detail
the directions for building a sanctuary in the desert, for
instance. Yet God did not provide Moses any direct guidance
about how to manage his time and priorities, nor did God
instruct him to delegate responsibility. God left it to a
trusted friend, Jethro, to offer this critical advice.
We learn, then, that vital insight and inspiration which we
need may not come directly from God, but from supportive,
dynamic-thinking people whom he inspires to help us. If we donít
open ourselves to their help, weíre likely to live beneath our
potential and fail to experience some of the most welcome
provision God has for our needs.
Finding People Who See Us Dynamically
It comes as welcome news to realize how greatly we benefit
from the influence of people who see us dynamically. We have
nothing less than a channel of Godís grace available to us
through them. Yet recognizing our need for them can also be
unsettling, especially if we feel that our options for finding
such people arenít good. And if family members were unaffirming
to us as we were growing up, we may feel disadvantaged now as an
adult, and fear that weíve lost a step in life.
Scripture, though, is full of examples of people from
difficult family backgrounds who went on to live rich and
fruitful lives. David, one of the most impressive personalities
in the Bible, is an inspiring example. His father, Jesse,
thought so little of him that, when Samuel came to interview his
sons for the position of king, Jesse didnít even ask David to
participate (1 Sam 16:1-13). Davidís oldest brother, Eliab,
despised him, chiding David for thinking he could battle Goliath
(1 Sam 17:28). Davidís other brothers were probably unsupportive
of him as well. Yet God used all of this adversity to toughen up
David for super-human tasks.
A major reason David was able to overcome the challenges of a
difficult upbringing so successfully is because he sought
affirming relationships outside of his family. His friendship
with Jonathan is a prime example.
Each of us has among our own circle of acquaintances and
potential contacts far more opportunities for dynamic,
supportive relationships than we normally imagine. Fortunately
there are many steps we can take to find these individuals. Here
are some suggestions:
Begin with prayer. Our need for people who see us
dynamically is so close to the heart of Godís concern for our
life that itís clearly an appropriate topic for prayer. Pray
regularly that God will bring you into contact with those who
believe strongly in you, and who inspire you to achieve Godís
best for your life. Mention this concern daily in your
devotional time, and from time to time give some extended
attention to praying about it.
If your need for affirming relationships is significant, take
an afternoon, a day or longer for a personal retreat to express
your need to God. Be sure to thank him for the supportive people
he has provided you in the past. Ask him, also, to help you
understand any changes you can make that will help you to find
affirming relationships in the future. Then move ahead in light
of the insights youíve gained.
Take inventory of your relationships. Carefully think
over your friendships, family contacts and other acquaintances.
Is there someone you know who by instinct thinks positively
about you, gives you good counsel and inspires you to meet
challenges? Is this person open to a closer friendship? If so,
you may want to give more time to nurturing your friendship with
this person and to drawing on his or her strength. Give priority
in your time with people to those who see you dynamically.
By the same token, if some of your acquaintances are
outrightly unaffirming and belittle your dreams, avoid contact
with them as much as possible. Take control of your social life,
and maximize the time spent with those who encourage you.
Teachers and coaches. Iím often fascinated at the bond
that can develop with a teacher or coach, especially when weíre
being trained in a talent weíre eager to develop. A teacher will
sometimes see a studentís potential far better than the student
does. Then, by optimism and skillful instruction, the teacher
inspires the student to heights he or she never thought
possible. So often the side-effect is that the student also
gains greater confidence about life.
A dynamic bond can sometimes develop very quickly with a
teacher whom weíve never previously met. It happened on the
first night for my son Ben, when he was in sixth grade, with a
most unlikely candidate. We had signed up Ben for drum lessons
with a retired jazz drummer, Johnny Smith, who was highly
recommended by a family friend. I didnít know until we arrived
at his tiny home in Kensington, Maryland, however, that Smith
was 74, partially hearing-impaired, and had several disabled,
arthritic fingers. My heart sank when I saw his ďstudioĒ--a
cramped basement room with several inexpensive drum pads, a few
home-made wooden cymbals and an ancient hi-fi system with (as it
turned out) distorted speakers. This canít possibly work, I
Yet Smithís buoyant spirit had won Ben over
by the end of the first session. On Thursday nights for the next
five years, Smith worked magic with Ben. He not only taught him
countless invaluable techniques but, most important, constantly
assured him convincingly that he could master the drums. Smith
also praised each small step Ben made forward. Smithís approach
was so effective that Ben had developed a near-professional
drumming skill by the time he reached high school. Last year he
graduated from college with a music education degree; his major
instrument, of course, was percussion.
While many teachers helped Ben along the way, none had
greater influence than Johnny Smith. (Smith, now 88,
continues to teach, and so remarkably that The Washington
Post recently paid tribute to him with a major feature.*)
The impact of a good teacher can be enjoyed at any age. At
63, my mom took a course in painting at a local womenís club.
Her teacher, Mariano Eckart, a highly respected Dominican
artist, recognized a latent talent and encouraged her to take
painting seriously. For many years she studied under this
devoted instructor, who inspired her on with his confidence. In
time, she won a number of awards in womenís club competitions
for landscape painting. Yet she had never painted artistically
at all before taking this course.
I donít mean to imply that anyone can count on becoming the
next Buddy Rich or Grandma Moses just by sitting under the right
teacher. Each of us, though, does have areas of potential that
are far more capable of blossoming under a good teacher than we
imagine. If you have a skill that youíre eager to develop, pray
earnestly, ask around, and see if you can find a gifted teacher
who will work with you. Then take the risk--sign up with him or
her for a course or private lessons. Give the teaching process a
fair chance; in some cases the effect is thoroughly
The healing help of counselors. Professional counselors
are trained to see people dynamically, and so many are
inclined temperamentally to do so. Counselors can help us in a
variety of ways--from clarifying our thinking about decisions,
to helping us gain better communication skills, to helping us
work through deep-rooted emotional conflicts. The stigma once
attached to being counseled is largely gone today; others, in
fact, are likely to respect you for seeking a counselorís
And, fortunately, Christian counselors are now widely
available. It is far easier to find a counselor who respects your
spiritual values than it was a short time ago. Counselors differ
greatly in their approaches, and you may find more rapport with
one than another; feel free to interview several in finding one
who is right for you.
But if you believe you would benefit from professional counseling, donít
hesitate to seek such help. The counseling process can
provide an exceptional opportunity to experience the redemptive
effect of someoneís seeing your life with positive vision. If
you have the need, take advantage of the best counseling
available to you, and enjoy the benefits!
The benefits of an active social life. Any steps we
take to become more active socially--from taking a course at a
local college; to joining a dramatics group, orchestra or
athletic team; to volunteering with a community organization or
mission--increase our chances of meeting affirming people. There
are vast differences in the supportive spirit present in
different social settings, and in the opportunity they offer for
forging friendships. It can take some research and experimenting
to find the situations that work best for us.
We may find that a certain group of people by nature is
unsupportive, or that weíve been stigmatized unfairly in it. Yet
people may treat us radically differently in another social
setting--even a similar group in the same community. The change
in social climate we experience simply by changing groups can be
as extreme as moving from one country to another.
Itís a simple principle, but one with profound implications:
the more active we are socially, the greater our prospects
for meeting supportive people and forming affirming
The golden opportunities within Christian fellowship.
Some of the most affirming people on this planet are Christians
who have been deeply influenced by Christís love. Believers with
a grace-centered perspective on the Christian life are often
extraordinary encouragers. I rarely visit a church or fellowship
group where I donít encounter some of these notable people. And
some Christian communities, because of the focus of their
teaching and ministry, tend to attract them.
Our primary reason for joining a church or Christian group
should be to grow in Christ, to be sure. Yet itís also important
to be looking to the Christian community as a source for
supportive relationships. Most of us have within the region
where we live many excellent opportunities for Christian
fellowship--including churches, fellowship groups, Bible
studies, small groups, classes, campus organizations, and
special events. Usually these options include many we havenít
yet discovered. Over time, we will likely find that the
Christian community provides us with the best setting for
forging relationships with people who see us dynamically.
See others dynamically. Finally, in looking for
supportive relationships, itís hard to overemphasize the
importance of ďdoing unto others.Ē If weíre eager to find those
who are affirming and forward-looking with us, one of the most
important steps we can take is to act similarly toward others.
Encouragers attract encouragers. Fortunately, there is much we
can do to improve our social skills and sharpen our ability to
be a positive force in othersí lives.*
Here we donít have to look beyond Jesus for the most helpful
role model possible. One of his most endearing qualities during
his earthly ministry was his uncanny ability to see people
dynamically. To Peter, John and others who had known only a
fishermanís existence, for instance, he presented a broader
vision: ďCome, follow me, and I will make you fishers of menĒ
(Mk 1:17). His absolute confidence that they could do something
more with their lives fired them up so strongly that they went
on to change the world--and we continue to feel their the impact
of their influence
in our own lives today.
May Jesusí example inspire us, as we seek to encourage others
as we wish to be encouraged ourselves. And may we take heart as
we look for supportive relationships, that in this area--as in
all others--his hand in our life is not shortened.