The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV
It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:
It’ wasn’t any one big, awful thing that had me feeling down. It was just a whole bunch of irksome first-world stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.
Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington and it’s January. I have not seen the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D pills I’ve been eating like skittles are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Among the other problems compounding that issue were some tense meetings, our beloved little dog died, I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over, and a mean person said some hurtful things that I had a hard time getting over.
I am keenly aware that in the grand scheme of life and eternity none of my problems are all that significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the stuff that really matters in this life is still okay in my world.
However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day making terrible dietary choices and feeling sorry for my pathetic self.
Just as I was reaching the highpoint of my pity-party, God gave me an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.
Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.
Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-
Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).
Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-
One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement can transform even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.
Find something to be thankful for-
Thankfulness alone will not magically transform a bad situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.
Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-
This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1). It is also the way we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).