When the Encourager is Missing

At some point, by the grace of God, many of us have the opportunity to be influenced by an encourager. Very often, encouragers challenge us to imagine a future. They present possibilities. They inspire confidence.

I once heard the following story about my grandfather and have since thought about it many times.


My grandfather, John Martin, grew up in Oklahoma. His father had the reputation of being a very hard man. Meanwhile, his mother was a godly woman who was a part of a nearby church. They had two sons.

His mother had a reputation throughout the community for helping people when they were sick. She would often stay with a sick family and care for them until they got well. Her husband, however, could be cruel. He would often speak of his son Leonard, complimenting him for all that he could do to help around the farm. Yet, he rarely had a kind word to say regarding his other son, John (my grandfather).

John graduated first in his high school class. Then, with the encouragement of his mother, he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. He wanted to become a medical doctor. He earned 110 hours of credit but then his senior year in school, his mother died. His father told the townspeople: “John doesn’t have enough sense to make a doctor.” His father cut off the tuition forcing his son to quit his studies.

John had not only lost his encourager but his tuition as well.

John went back home and began working on the farm. He later drove a truck. Then, during World War II, John worked on an assembly line in a munitions plant in Oklahoma City. He loved math and would often work trigonometry and calculus problems on his break, just for the challenge. One day, while on the assembly line, he was calculating some mathematical problems, when a friend asked, ”John, why aren’t you up there (pointing to the manager’s office)?”  

He married a young schoolteacher by the name of Iris and they moved to Searcy, Arkansas, where he worked at the Harding Dry Cleaners (on the campus of Harding University) until retirement. At the laundry, he once again worked math problems during his lunch break. He worked at this laundry until he retired.

He had dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. However, he had long ago lost his encourager.

Many years later, when my grandfather was in his 90s and living in a nursing home, he reflected on this story. My dad asked him about his years at the university, the death of his mother, and his dream of becoming a doctor.

He finally said, “I know I could have done it. I know I could have.”

This chapter in my grandfather’s life is a significant part of my own story. Because of this story, I have learned to value the contribution that certain encouragers have made in my life. I have realized that were it not for some significant encouragers, I could easily have given up and taken the path of least resistance.


Is there a family story that has been significant in shaping your life? Do you think about this often?

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9 thoughts on “When the Encourager is Missing

  1. Yes. My father grew up in a home where he was constantly derided by his own father. Yet, my dad became the kind of person who was very affirming of us and encouraging to many other people as well. He attributed much of his ability to climb out of that despairing situation to the influence of one woman at a church in their community who took an interest in him, encouraging him to go to a Christian college and become a minister. There he met my mother and the rest is a history that might have been very different had it not been for Grace Swisher, a woman who never married and had no children of her own, but chose to invest herself in encouraging my dad.

    • Connie, I love this story. What a powerful ministry for Grace Swisher. So impressed with people who invest their lives in another.

  2. Perhaps my life as a result of encouragers would be helpful to some. My father was never present, had tremendous talents (I’m told), abandoned his young 16 year old wife with two children, me the younger less than 6 months of age, consumed mass quantities of beer, grew into adulthood during time when “living together” was not allowed for white folk (thus at least 7 marriages, 4 of which I am aware of half-brothers or half-sisters), yet always longed to know his oldest son (me). I, the same. So, how was he an encourager? Well, to the negative side, the physical part of existence. On the other hand, the adoptive father, my real father, my dad, was an extremely gentle man, a believer who passed his Christianity to me through church attendance. He was a hard, hard worker, passing a work-ethic without saying anything. The destinies of these two men are apparent, both their lives on earth, and eternally (God knowing the true hearts of both). For me, the daily conflict of the masters serving these two, are always in my mind, as demonstrated in my actions as a believer and sinful humanity. on the whole, as I believe, the second encourager wins out, as he introduced me to the conquerer of sin.

    • Johnny, thank you for this story and the contrasts between these two men. What a blessing that you had such an encouraging adoptive father. He evidently had a powerful influence on you.

  3. I am grateful for my mom and dad who, in spite of having a difficult marriage, stayed together, loved me, and encouraged me to try new things. What ever I wanted to do at the time they helped – whether it was collecting sea shells, keeping honey bees, building hobby rockets, trying the theater, giving my life to Christ, becoming a pastor, leaving the pastorate and working construction, or leaving the family business to start my own. They loved my wife, my children, and my choices.

    I have been blessed and hope to be as much a blessing to my children!

    • Fritz, I am so glad you left this comment. Your story is a powerful witness to God working through a couple who worked through a difficult marriage and who were helpful and supportive of their son in many, many ways. Thanks.

    • Susan, yes it is a sad story on a number of fronts. Yet, through this story I have been convicted as to how powerful and important encouragement is to another person. Thanks!