Middle school. Two words that send shivers down my spine.  For me, middle school was awkward.  Whether my awkward days are actually over is debatable, but that’s a different article. (If you can’t relate to the weirdness of middle school, don’t tell me, just nod in agreement as you read this. It will make me feel better.) I had a bad haircut, the wrong clothes, and not many friends. I didn’t fit and I knew it. I looked around and noticed other girls that didn’t appear quite so ill-fitting in their surroundings. They were cute, well-liked, and they were…cheerleaders.

Every Thursday, the cheerleaders would wear their matching uniforms to school, with braided hair in ribbons, and temporary tattoos on their cheeks. The crowded hallways would split like the Red Sea as they sauntered by in what felt like slow motion. There wasn’t a trace, not a single hint of awkward in their entire beings. I might have been less than desirable in appearance but I was no dummy. It was simple logic, really. If I wanted to be cute, well-liked, and graceful, I needed to be a cheerleader. I needed the short skirt and strategically ribboned hair. I needed to be part of that elite club that encompassed the dreams my life held at the time. So I set my sights on one thing, one goal — to become an eighth grade cheerleader.

I trained, I practiced, and I learned to French braid my hair. I was going to be a cheerleader. I saved my own money, bought the right shoes, and took lessons from a high school cheerleader. Unfortunately, I wasn’t great. Truth be told, I could barely do a cartwheel. I tried out, gave it all I had, but I wasn’t picked. To say that I was heartbroken would be an understatement. I. Was. Devastated. All my hopes for the future were wrapped up in the dream of being an eighth grade cheerleader. I couldn’t see any farther than my life as an eighth grader, and I was certain being a cheerleader was the only answer to my social dilemma.

Eventually, the pain of rejection dulled and life moved on. I never had the cheerleader uniform I desired. Instead, I got involved in other activities like music, soccer, and track. I wasn’t cheering on the sideline, I was in the game. The cheerleaders yelled and jumped for ME. When I was on the final lap of a race, I could hear the shouts of encouragement and I pushed harder. I became the recipient of the cheerleaders’ support.

Cheers from the Sideline

Years later, I still remember the sting of rejection. I recall the pain of an unrealized dream. Yet I can still hear the cheers from the sidelines for me! I may not have made middle school cheerleader, but I’ve come to recognize the importance of being a cheerleader in the lives of those around me.

Words matter. When spoken as praise, your words can ring in the ears of someone as they encounter a crisis of faith, a bully at school, or a scary health report. Every day you face individuals who need a boost or a reminder that they are loved. Does your son or daughter know you care more about them than a clean house or your reputation? Are you speaking encouragement into the children you teach or the clients you meet?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

We all need cheerleaders. Who are you on the sidelines cheering for? I’m not talking about matching uniforms or round-off back- handsprings. I’m talking about your words.

If you want to be a cheerleader, consider these things:

1. Start with your home team. You may not see eye-to-eye with those in your family, but those individuals aren’t in your life on accident, and I’m certain it isn’t to tear them down.  Are the words you speak to your family words of support, encouragement, and praise? Does your family know you are in their corner?

2. Check your motives. I only wanted to be a middle school cheerleader for the esteem and acceptance, not because I really wanted to cheer anyone on. Don’t cheer someone on because you want something from them. Instead, encourage them because you believe in them. Believe in your children, believe in your spouse, and believe in your students and your friends. If you don’t, take a step back and evaluate what you do feel. Are you angry, resentful, or frustrated? If you can’t cheer someone on because you want to see them win, then deal with your motives.

3. Speak their language. Everyone receives love and encouragement in a different way. If you aren’t familiar with The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, grab a copy and learn the love language of those around you. How can you encourage your assistant in a way that is most meaningful to her, or how does your daughter receive praise, or your husband best understand love? It may be a gift, a hug, or a word of encouragement. Study those around you and love them well.

4. Be intentional. It is easy to read an article and nod your head, thinking, “That’s a good idea. I should do that.” Paul says in Philippians 3:16, “Let us live up to what we have already attained.” If you really want to make a difference, you have to be intentional. One of my favorite authors says, “Unless we consistently speak praise, we consistently speak poison.” If you aren’t intentional about speaking words of encouragement, you may be unintentionally speaking words of destruction.

If cheering on those around you isn’t something you normally do, it won’t come naturally. Don’t expect it to. Start small and don’t stop. The more you do it, the easier it will get.