Several years ago, I experienced what appeared to be a fairly sudden onset of significant discouragement. It both surprised and scared me that, despite my best attempts, I couldn't shake it on my own. And it wasn't going away. A series of difficult circumstances and relationships left me feeling lost and hopeless in the church we'd worked so hard to plant. I was stuck, unable to find a way out. It was painful to admit I was quickly turning into the person I'd tried so hard not to become—a discouraged and disillusioned pastor's wife.
One of the first things he showed me was my deep fear of admitting how much I was struggling with discouragement. The battle seemed like a tremendous failure I should have been able to avoid. In retrospect, I had so feared the implications of discouragement that I refused to acknowledge its tiny seeds when they first appeared years earlier. My default reaction to encountering a difficult emotion was to ignore it and keep moving. I viewed this response as perseverance and self-control, but, in reality, I was hiding and living in denial. Fear, anger, disappointment, and sadness were piling up, but I assumed acknowledging them meant I was in danger of becoming a person who wallowed around in destructive self-pity. In reality, ignoring these emotions in an attempt to prove my own maturity and strength was a primary cause of my discouragement.
Over time, I learned emotions weren't the enemy, but rather a helpful tool. Additionally, I saw that processing those emotions through the truth of Scripture alongside wise and godly people led to less self-absorption, not more.
I also learned to make rest and self-care a priority. I'd essentially spent several years living as if rest and refreshment were great ideas for others but impossible for me. I had plenty of excuses as to why I didn't take time alone or develop a consistent habit of keeping Sabbath. But the truth was I didn't want to battle through the practical difficulties of making these things happen consistently or, more importantly, of confronting my productivity and performance idols. Jesus' invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, then, was a breath of fresh air. I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to rest in his finished work for me instead of in my own effort and striving. I've been learning to view rest as a gift and to intentionally pursue health and refreshment through worship, solitude, exercise, and recreation. Today, my habits of rest and self-care are among the first things I examine when I feel discouragement creeping in.
Another key to battling through discouragement was intentionally rediscovering the good things happening inside our church. Far from a moralistic attempt to “look at the bright side,” this was an important step of gaining a more realistic and holistic viewpoint of what was actually occurring all around me. I had become overly focused on our church's weaknesses, problems, and trials; meanwhile, however, God was still rescuing and restoring people. Marriages were being transformed, the poor and marginalized in our community were being loved and served, and people were growing in their love for God's Word and understanding of the gospel. I experienced anew the tremendous encouragement that comes from hearing and rejoicing in peoples' stories of God doing the impossible.
Finally, I learned how resting in my complete security and safety in Christ allowed me to take relational risks again. To be sure, God doesn't promise relationships in the ministry context will be simple or that I won't ever get my heart broken again. But he does promise his love and grace will be enough—always. I've been beautifully surprised by the many ways he's used the body of Christ to encourage me as I've become more open to receiving love and grace from them.
Overall, I've learned that struggling with discouragement as a pastor's wife isn't something I have to fear or manage on my own. I've experienced God's faithfulness as he's carried me through the struggle of discouragement more than I ever did by trying to fearfully tiptoe around it by myself. Today, I'm confident I can take my discouraged heart straight to our gracious and merciful God. He's more than big—and good—enough to handle it.
Learn more from Amie Patrick and her husband, Darrin, on “Dealing with Discouragement in Ministry” in their workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference next month. Register here, and we'll see you soon in Orlando!