Guest blog: The roots of encouragement

One of the goals of On The Edge of Faith blog is to provide encouragement to one another in our spiritual journeys. Guest blogger Julia Powers provides her reflections on the topic of encouragement in this post. You can read more about the series or contribute here

When I think of the word “encouragement,” I think of its word roots (go ahead, call me a nerd).

The word “courage” comes from the Latin word cor, which means “heart” and gives us, for instance, the French coeur and Spanish corazón. Ever since I learned this in high school Latin, it has never ceased to amaze me that “courage” basically means having a heart – a strong, beating, not-giving-up kind of heart, I suppose. So, to “encourage” someone basically means to give them a heart – that strong, beating, not-giving-up kind of heart.

To en-courage someone is to perform emotional heart surgery on the dis-couraged.

I’ve heard it said, though the quotation’s attribution has been contested, that “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

As a writer, I might find it particularly troubling to have “forgotten the words.”

red heart.jpg

"To en-courage someone is to perform emotional heart surgery"

What’s next? I remember wondering when I graduated from college.

What’s next? I know many are wondering this summer, as graduations and other sorts of life transitions send anxieties running high.

What are the words to the song in my heart?

Encouragement offers some grounding, stabilizing words of who we are, have been, and will be. For instance, I have heard a priest describe a conversation he had some years ago at a college reunion – or maybe it was a high school reunion – at which he told an old friend that he was soon to be ordained. The old friend thought for a second, nodded, and said, “That makes sense.”

For me, it was a professor this semester who sat with me in his office discussing theology and psychology and my term paper for his class. But before I left, he interjected out of the blue, “You know, you’re a good writer. Whatever you do in life, I hope you keep writing.” Little did he know, at that point I had put my creative writing endeavors on hold. But, after my professor’s encouragement? You’d better believe I’m writing.

For other people, it’s a parent, mentor, friend, or seemingly random stranger just pointing out, “Hey, I’ve often noticed you doing x” or “I appreciate the way you’ve done y” or “Have you thought about pursuing z?”    

For anyone, I strongly recommend seeking out a good counselor, spiritual director, or similar individual who can tell you some of the most en-heart-ening words of all and discern with you how to live them out in your own life: You are God’s. You have been created, loved, and called for a purpose to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.       

Take courage. There is something holy in your heart.   




Guest blogger: Julia Powers is a writer and graduate student pursuing the dual M.Div. and M.S.W. at Duke Divinity School and UNC School of Social Work. If it’s about religion and/or mental health, she’s probably interested. You can find her work at


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