Mutual Support & Encouragement – Br. Curtis Almquist

Lenten Preaching Series: A Framework for Freedom

SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 43: “Mutual Support and  Encouragement” 

Colossians 3:12-17; John 15:9-17

The story is told of a weary man, aged beyond his years, who walked slowly into the office of a country doctor.  The man appeared spent, even by the brief walk back to the doctor’s examination room, and he sat down heavily onto the examination table.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the doctor.

The man answered, “Doctor, life is very short and very hard, and I find no joy.”

The doctor listened to the man describe his symptoms, then examined him.  On finding no physical abnormalities, the doctor wondered how he could possibly be of help? Finally, the doctor’s face lit up when he thought he might have a remedy.  The doctor said, “There’s an amazing clown appearing in our local theater. Prokevia is his name. He’s absolutely marvelous!  Go and see him, and perhaps he will remind you of the joy that lies hidden in your life.”

The man looked up at the satisfied doctor, breathed a sigh and said, “My dear doctor… I am Prokevia.”

You may understand Prokevia’s suffering if you are a wonderful person.  If you do some things well, bring sustenance and delight to other people’s lives, and if you are dependable, you will likely be taken for granted and for gratis, but you will not be taken with gratitude.  At least gratitude will probably not be expressed to you.  Not often.  It’s not because the people whose lives you touch aren’t dependent on you; nor that they are without gratitude for who you are and what you do.  But in a kind of paradoxical way, the better you perform, and the more dependable you are, the less likely you will hear praise and gratitude… which would be so encouraging to you.  The children or adults who look to you and depend upon you undoubtedly have some unconscious sense that who you are and what you do simply emanates from you; it all happens from within you – you being like a nuclear power plant that doesn’t need any infusion of energy from outside – and so you are left alone to do what you do so amazingly and predictably well.  Surely you know you are wonderful?  Surely you know how much you matter?  Surely you know how grateful we are for you?  Surely?  But you actually don’t know this.  You might have known this once, maybe even yesterday, but you’ve long since forgotten it.

If people depend on you for something, you are not “down and out,” but rather “up and out,” and you can easily feel estranged all the same.  Your need to be remembered, thanked, and encouraged is great.  And you’re not going to admit this.  Unless you blow up and lose veneer, you’re not going to admit you need to be remembered, thanked, supported, and encouraged.

Do you remember that scene in “Fiddler on the Roof” where Tevye asks his wife of 25 years, Golde, “Do you love me?”  He implores her again and again, “Do you love me?”  There’s every reason he should know he is loved, Golde reminds him, but Tevye rather desperately needs to be reminded, or he needs to be told explicitly.  And so for us.  In our Rule of Life, we talk about our needing support and encouragement as our “daily bread.”  Most of us have short-term memory loss whether we matter and are appreciated, especially in what we do well.  I’m probably speaking about you.

We also need support and encouragement as daily bread because of the very personal ways in which we otherwise suffer alone, as we say in our Rule, especially at times of stress, disappointment, and weakness. When we fail, or when we feel ourselves a failure, we suffer three losses: estrangement from God, from other people, and from ourselves.  It’s the latter – our relationship with our own self – that is the lynch pin in all our other relationships.

No matter how much we may belong to other people – in a marriage or partnership, in a monastic community, to professional colleagues or fellow volunteers, or to precious family members and friends – no matter our bonds to other people, the most important relationship we wake up to every morning is our relationship to our own self: whether we are on good speaking terms with our own self; whether we can love, honor, forgive, and enjoy our own selves.  The degree to which we can love ourselves will set the bar for how we will relate to others and to God.  We will love others the way we love ourselves, just as Jesus said.1  This is our essential need for converting our existential condemnation and loneliness into the most splendid solitude.  There’s a reason why we cannot do this alone.

All of us make mistakes, suffer failures, miss the mark, experience ourselves disappointing.  This begins in our early childhood.  We learn about our failures and inadequacies from others and, whether or not others’ judgment of us is accurate or helpful, we will probably believe it and even collude with it as we grow older.  We are graded in life, first by others, then by ourselves.  And no matter how good we are, we always could have been better.  If left to our own devices, our own mean judgments, we will almost inevitably score poorly.  We could have been, should have been better, don’t we know.  There’s no way out of this downward, internal spiral, which can become viral, unless we are rescued by love.  It’s otherwise hell, all the way to hell.  We are secretly condemned and sentenced to a lifetime, an eternity of inadequacy, failure, and estrangement unless we are rescued by love: someone who will bequeath dignity, worth, recognition, and gratitude upon us because of who were are and what we do.  We simply cannot grasp this alone: that we are precious, and amazing, and of inestimable value unless this truth is mirrored into our being by another person.2  We need others’ help to know we are forgivable and forgiven.  We cannot save ourselves.  We need to be saved from hell every day.  We need to give and receive support and encouragement for one another as “daily bread.”  This is not a one-time need, but rather our ongoing need for the intervention of love for ourselves, mediated through other people.

Jesus said he has come “to bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”3  He’s talking about us.  The only way we can grasp Jesus’ judgment of love is through the hands, and hearts, and words of other people who are the channels of Jesus’ intervening, liberating truth.  Jesus will reach us through other people.  That’s the only way.  We need daily support and encouragement from others or we are left to ourselves where we become, simultaneously, the judge, the jailer, and the prisoner in solitary confinement.  We need one another to meditate Jesus’ light and life and love for us.4

Encouragement is an amazing thing.  The English word “encouragement” comes from the Old French, “corage,” which is the word for heart.  Encouragement is a balm to the heart.  Encouragement will bind up the broken hearted, just as Jesus promises us.  Encouragement is a need we all have; encouragement is a power we all have.  Unleash that power.  When Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” you do not necessarily have to share blood, sweat, and tears for others, at least not every day.  But every day you can lay down your life for others by bowing before them.  Acknowledge their dignity, their amazing worth, their wonderful work, the reality of their forgivenness, the essence of their loveliness.  This will change their day, and change their lives, and make an eternity of difference.  Encouragement will convert someone’s fearful heart, or lonely heart, or a heart of stone into the new heart that God promises.5  Encouragement is how courage gets into our hearts.  Encouragement produces courage; encouragement makes us strong, very strong.  It is as simple and profound as that.  Encouragement: you have the need; you have the power.

This Lent, perhaps you’ve given up something to help prepare for the joy of Eastertide.  Here’s a lenten practice to take on: encouragement.  Be encouraging to at least one person every day.  You could even be encouraging to two people.  Maybe more.  You have within your heart almost an endless supply of encouragement for other people.  Practice it!  And that encouragement will return to you, even a hundredfold.6


1 Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31-33; Luke 10:27.


2 The sweet words of the Prophecy of Isaiah 43:4 –  “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you….”


3 Jesus begins his public ministry in Luke 4:14-21 by reading aloud from the prophecy of Isaiah (61): “The spirit of the LordGod is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit….” Jesus concludes the reading, announcing that he, “today,” is fulfilling this scripture.


4 “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world.  Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now.”  Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic.


5 Ezekiel 36:26: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”


6 An allusion to Jesus’ promise in Matthew 19:29.

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  1. Ellen Cook on August 30, 2017 at 05:49

    My heart aches for all of you who are weary, depressed, lonely, drained. I wish I had a healing balm for your hearts. I do know that you are of inestimable value because you are a child of God, created in love in order to love and be loved in this world. May this sermon’s wise words provide you courage to face this difficult world…

  2. Brenda Bomers on August 30, 2017 at 02:05

    Thank you from thousands of miles away this sermon transformed my day and my approach to every day giving me courage and reassurance that yes we all need wherever we are in the world.

  3. Terence Dougherty on August 29, 2017 at 14:09

    If we stay a while in the first part of the sermon, we may recognize how it’s possible for us to forget or neglect God. The good news is God’s invitation to repair & renew that relationship never fails!
    Thank you, Curtis!

  4. Helen Northrop on August 29, 2017 at 09:09

    Lord Jesus, Thank you so much, for Brother Curtis.
    I needed to read his words today.

  5. Elizabeth Hardy on August 29, 2017 at 09:08

    I think the overwhelming response to this says more than any additional comment could. I wake up every morning feeling dread facing myself and the day – and as a priest I am meant to encourage others. Reading this eased the depression I deal with daily and has given me a new way of thinking about myself and how I am before God. And supports my practice of every day thanking my staff for what they do – even when they say they don’t need to be thanked. We all need to hear an encouraging word – even those we think are supremely confident in themselves and their abilities. We all live in the prison of self-doubt. One word can open that door. Thank you.

  6. Fred Adams on February 7, 2017 at 01:06

    And you, Brother Curtis, David, James, et al, do wonderful things. You encourage me, so let me encourage you. Though we have never met and are unlikely to do so, you make such a difference in my life. Thank you.

  7. Janet on February 6, 2017 at 20:57

    This sermon arrived in my inbox 3 days ago and, though I usually read them every day as soon as they arrive, I missed this one. Why? Because I needed to read it today! Last night I felt drained, alone, unloved and I longed or a word of support or encouragement. Today I received that word. Thank you, thank you!

  8. Polly Chatfield on February 6, 2017 at 10:37

    Dear Sallie,
    It is brave of you to have written as you did. I hope all who read this sermon after me will pray, as I will, for your heart to be lightened. God holds you in God’s arms.

  9. sallie on February 5, 2017 at 19:37

    yes – it hit the spot today…feeling drained- not even aiive enough to think about being appreciated…..
    but it’s not true about not being able to love others without loving yourself- I have always been able to care for others better than for myself- and I know that i am not the only one to be like this-

  10. Karen mcgee on February 5, 2017 at 08:20

    The message is an answer to a universal need to be recognized and appreciated. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could realize this internally without special recognition and acknowledge ment. God loves us completely. When I can take this in it seems like a miracle and I feel free. Thank you for the reminder!

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  12. Jeff Lowry on July 13, 2016 at 09:20

    Br. Curtis,

    Thank you for this sermon! I am reading it four years later and the subject matter still remains relevant. Many people spend time caring for others. In psychological quizzes I come up with the designation of “caregiver”. Why not, 99% of my
    adult life has been spent as a caregiver; both in my professional and personal life. Too often those of us who are professionals at caregiving stress the
    giving part. We neglect to take care of ourselves.
    If we do not take the time and effort to care for ourselves we wind up not giving the best care to others. As a final note, I thought how foreshadowing was your story of the country
    doctor and Prokevia. It very well could have been used in a eulogy for Robin Williams.

  13. Rose Steeves on July 9, 2016 at 08:54

    Wonderful words of wisdom. Encouragement is so very easy to do and it brings such joy and contentment to others and makes us feel good too. Today I will encourage a few people starting with my husband.

  14. David Goodwin on July 9, 2016 at 08:41

    Thank you. You are an encourager, for you understand the way of our hearts. May the Lord bring you today some specific help from someone else, courage for your jour ney. (And those words from St Theresa Avila- how timely.)

  15. Rhode on July 9, 2016 at 08:17

    Just as praise to God in times of great hardship actually becomes a ‘sweet smelling sacrifice’… is the encouragement we give to others, when we ourselves are hurting….it can be a sacred moment.

  16. Pam on July 16, 2015 at 00:34

    I never had encouragement as a child. I was always judged, and the judgment was that I was always lacking. So, I seem to have learned from negative example. I know how important it is to receive encouragement, and I give it freely. It is a blessing to me (and to others) to do so. I just love to speak a word of encouragement.

  17. Emily Osborn on July 15, 2015 at 12:45

    Study Barnabas in the scripture to learn how to be the perfect encourager. He started on the road to discipleship with a gift of money but then spent many years encouraging Paul and the others in the early church. Remember that when you talk with anyone your can either be helpful (encouraging) or damaging. You can either build them up or turn them down. Give undivided attention to those who speak to you an especially those who seek your help;. Emily Osborn

  18. Anders on July 15, 2015 at 11:32

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to be bread to one another, to be present to one another and to encourage one another. My familiar paradigm of being faithful, stoic and modest works against this, and I struggle to find ways to have such a dialogue at times. That we can fail or feel sad without lacking faith, that we need nourishment for what is a “given”, or encouragement for something unique to us, a calling that is perhaps outside of known and comfortable boundaries.
    This is how I as a father try to encourage my sons, and I feel that God calls us to encourage one another with no strings beyond love attached. As a child I sat in front of breakfast cereal boxes, encouraged to grow up to become as strong and talented as Bruce Jenner gracing Wheaties. Now Kaitlin Jenner is gracing the cover of Vogue. That transformation may have been off my radar screen, but I honor Mr. / Ms. Jenner for living the same message: Become who God made you in all his or her glory; honor that others wish the same for themselves and for you, and it is all good in as much or as little we can fathom the whole mystery of it all.

  19. Michael on July 15, 2015 at 10:57

    Your reminder that we need to be on good terms with ourselves is fundermental. For myself, I know I can easily become unrealistic and far too judgemental with myself and as you say it then simply spirals out of control. That someone else experiences and understands the process lightens my loads and reenforces your concept that we need others’ encouragement and support. Thank you for your encouragement. You have helped another person today.

  20. Ruth West on July 15, 2015 at 09:28

    I needed this super-good sermon this morning.
    I feel encouraged about some tasks which are progressing rather slowly. I feel I can and will accomplish some good things today, with God’s help. I loved the scripture and related posts, too.
    Thank you, Brother in Christ.

  21. Selina from Maine on July 15, 2015 at 09:10

    I can testify that you practice what you preach , Brother Curtis. I shall be forever grateful to you for the moment during last Christmastide when you appeared in the Guesthouse dining area where a few of us were quietly chatting and said to me : ” We are so honored to have you here.”. I was flabbergasted .teary eyed , and speachless .I will say it now::thank you from the bottom of my heart. You made my year.

  22. Marta e. on July 15, 2015 at 06:23

    I loved your story about Prokivia as well as your cite re Teresa of Avila which also fits with Mother Teresa. I was feeling especially discouraged this morning, but realize that I, and we all, have been given the tools of Encouragement and Kindness = God’s Love. It can be such a “gift” to spread that around to the discouraged, the broken-hearted, etc. it is such a “small” but GREAT thing to give away to others (when I can get outside of myself and my own “needs”).

    It is such a wonderful thing to be given such inspiration for the day so early in the morning. And, I think that I will think today, all day, about being connected with your community and you and your brothers who reinforce that in each other and with the world through your daily meditations/sermons.

  23. Doyle Fugitt on January 20, 2013 at 16:02

    I have mjssed all your sermons when I had to change my emails!

  24. Patrick Smith on March 19, 2012 at 05:57

    I really loved this! I felt encouraged just reading it, but it reminds me to be mindful of opportunities to encourage others.

  25. Margo on March 8, 2012 at 12:32

    I especially loved you 7th paragraph starting “All of us make mistakes…”

  26. Jan on March 4, 2012 at 06:07

    The most profound words I have heard recently to help us in our daily life are,”encouragement produces courage”. This sermon reminds me how true this is for me…that a small work of appreciation by someone at a time when the going is tough or just plain dreary makes all the difference in continuing a good work or practice. How much more the power of this renewal by passing it on in an honest word of encouragement to another. And if an honest positive encouragement is hard to say to that person who seems to drain us, how much more we need prayer for God’s Grace to come to see Christ in this person and acknowlege the same with a word of encouragement offered in love to help give them the courage to grow in Christ. Thank you!

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