I was an early reader and a fairly good student when I began school. In 3rd grade, I met my Waterloo: math.
At that time, I attended an "alternative" school which tried to make education better by having open concept classes, not enough desks, and teachers who, when faced with an eight year old who didn't understand her math work, sent her to the library to keep the card catalogue tidy. So much for innovative education.
This poor foundation followed me. When it came to other branches of math, my lack of foundation made more difficult areas impossible. I felt stupid. It was hard enough being the "new kid" every few years without being the stupid new kid who never passed a math test. It has always been a particular embarrassment to me that I am no mathemetician. I would study for tests diligently only to confront gibberish the next day. I learned early that math is indeed a language, and it was one I could not master. It was my lack of math strength that was one of the major reasons our kids went into public high school; I just couldn't do it after 9th grade.
When I went to university, I got a strange notion to become a nurse. I see now God's hand of providence in not granting me that. I'm afraid I would have had more in common with Nurse Ratched than Florence Nightengale. Nonetheless, I applied. This meant taking a test involving math. I quickly switched my timetable around and took Calculus for Arts students, which is what math students and other science types might title "Calculus for Dummies."
It was grueling. Day in and day out of being reminded just how dense I was. This was my first year, and I was full-time at this point, and had four other courses with a lot of reading. The class was at 8:30 in the morning, and my next class was at 12:30, so I would return to my room and attempt to understand.
The other act of providence in my life at the time was the fact that my husband (then my fiance) was majoring in math. And he was the most patient math tutor anyone could ever ask for. He knew how to explain things in terms of analogies. He spotted what no other helper had spotted yet: my problems in high school math lay in the fact that my algebra skills were bad. Not being able to simply things was a huge problem for me. He would see the error where I would not. I would leave our tutoring sessions still feeling stupid, but knowing that I might understand enough to pass.
And pass I did. The lowest mark on my university transcript and the one I'm most proud of: a C.
We talk a lot about encouraging others and what that means. Sometimes, we think encouragement is just telling someone something nice about themselves, or providing affirmation. It's much more than that. The word is in two parts: there is a prefix, "en" and then "courage." It comes from a Middle English word which was derived from a French word. The word coeur in French means "heart." The prefix means "in" or "into" So, "into the heart;" that's what is at the root of encouragement.
The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines it this way:
1. To give courage, confidence, or hope to. 2. (followed by to + the infinitve) urge, advise. 3. stimulate by help, reward, etc.
My husband did all three of these things. He didn't write me off as a hopeless case, he kept helping me and giving me hope that I could do this thing. His encouragement involved instruction and guidance as well as gentle correction. When I think of the apostle Paul, instructing Timothy in the pastoral epistles, I know he understood what true encouragement is.
I started university late; I was 20 when I went, because I didn't graduate on time and then proceeded to work for a while. When I went to university, someone said to me that he doubted whether I would finish my education, and someone else, when I suggested I might like to be a writer said, "Better get a day job." That is antithesis of encouragement. In the back of my mind, in that first hard year, I heard those voices. Discouragement can be really powerful in a student's life.
All that to say this: encourage people around you. Use words, if necessary. I think, at times, in an effort not to foster pride in others, we don't encourage. However, sometimes, it's needed to give someone confidence. Occasionally, the difference between giving up and pressing on can lie in the lack or presence of encouragement.
Yes, God gives us the ultimate strength, but Paul didn't leave Timothy all by himself: he spoke words into his heart. I'm thankful that my husband knew what that meant when I needed it.