Encouraging one another
When the Broadway lyricist Stephen Sondheim died last November, many of us revisited the songs and musicals that he wrote. We listened to Sunday in the Park with George and shared our experiences of seeing Into the Woods. Broadway singers gathered in Times Square and sang “Sunday” in a beautiful tribute to this man whose writing, vision, and creativity changed American musical theater.
These tributes would be expected after the death of a man whose art brought such joy to thousands. But alongside those accolades were stories about the much quieter, but equally powerful, way that Sondheim contributed to the vitality of theater – by encouraging others. Over the course of decades, he reached out to performers, to emerging lyricists, to writers and others. He’d type simple notes or leave messages on answering machines: “I thought your work was inventive and exhilarating” or “I was knocked out by your show.”
These words of affirmation and encouragement weren’t just from some average Joe, but from a master of the craft. They were a shot in the arm to artists who faced so many challenges. They were small, but powerful acts that didn’t take lots of time, only intention. His love of artists and theater wasn’t just about his own success – but about lifting others and supporting their art, too.
In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us direction for how we can live as followers of Jesus. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks. Be patient. But he also writes, “encourage one another and build up each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Paul reminds us that it’s not just about our own victories and accomplishments, but building up one another. We are to be encouragers of one another.
Like Sondheim – this can come in simple ways, to people we know and perfect strangers. A note, a call, a kind word to someone at the store. We all need some encouragement these days, reminders that we aren’t alone, that our acts matter. These small, intentional noticings can build up others, and can multiply as we foster deeper community, confidence, and courage.
None of us will be able to write a song lyric like Stephen Sondheim – but we can become encouragers. And this world will be all the better for it.