Growing up in Danville, California, I was part of a great youth group.
I can think of a few youth workers who spent a lot of time encouraging me. One was very patient while listening to my stories of drama with girls. Another was patient while he encouraged to regularly spend time in God’s word for years. Still another one was patient as he let me play in our worship band even though I didn’t really know how to strum in rhythm with everybody else. Years later another was patient has he heard about how frustrated I was with my seminary experience.
Each one of these men never quit challenging me to be a stronger Christian.
I wouldn’t be who I am today if these men had given up hope that I could be something better than I was.
I was reminded of the role these men played in my life this week as I read an autobiography. If I were to count the number of biographies I’ve read in my life I could probably do so on my two hands. For whatever reason I just haven’t had much of a desire to read them. However, I received Louis Zamperini’s autobiography as a Christmas gift, and after the first chapter I was hooked.
I won’t go into all of the details of his life, but it’s pretty easy to get the gist by reading the subtitle of his book: “A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War II.”
I knew from the beginning that I was in for an amazing story, but every chapter contained little gems to take away and stunning descriptions of his experiences. As gripping as his whole tale was, I was primarily stricken by events he described early on in his story.
Usually when you see a biography about somebody famous you tend to skim the beginning chapters. They typically start off the same way as they talk about parents, siblings, family life, and events that don’t really seem to have much impact on the overall story. Let’s get to the good stuff. To the action. To the events that made this guy famous.
While reading the early chapters in Zamperini’s book it quickly becomes apparent that he was a rather wild kid while growing up. I was impressed by the amount of mischief he was able to find by the time he was in high school – trouble with the law, leaving home for days on end, frequent fights, to name a few of his delinquent activities.
All the while Louis’ older brother repeatedly encouraged him to become a runner at school. Louis continually shrugged off Pete’s advice. School sports were lame and they weren’t his style.
Finally it got to the point that Pete entered Louis into a school race when he was a freshman, forcing him to run. He didn’t do so well, but something inside him changed.
Without giving away the whole story, this moment was a game-changer for Louis. It started him down a completely different path in life that eventually took him to the 1936 Olympics as a miler who was just seconds away from breaking the 4 minute mark.
Louis’ rise to glory is expected because it says so on the cover of the book. I was impressed, though, that Louis attributed his success to his brother’s persistent encouragement, and later in the book, to God’s grace in his life. At one point Louis quotes Luke 12:48 by saying, “To whom much has been, much will be expected.” Louis knows that he when he was younger he had been headed down the wrong path in life, getting into all sorts of trouble. And yet something so simple, having somebody who believed in him, made all the difference in the world.
Louis’ story asks us a question: Who has given much to you?
Who has made sure to let you know they believe in you? How has their encouragement affected your life? Do they know that you are grateful?
As Louis describes his life later on, he explains that he made it his goal to try encouraging others in the same way his brother had made a difference to him. He spent years working with other troubled youth to help them make better choices in life. His gratitude motivated him to action. He has made it a point to pass on the encouragement of his brother, Pete.
How have you passed it on?
Who has benefited from your encouragement? How are your following in the footsteps of those who took time to encourage you?
Louis’ brother, Pete, was lucky. He had press conferences and newspaper articles to hear how his encouragement had impacted Louis. We don’t often have that luxury. We might not ever know the impact we have on others, but we are still called to encourage others.
Take some time this week and consider those who have helped you along your way. Think about letting them know how they have impacted you. Then think about how you can be a positive impact to others.