Defeated. Deflated. Defunct. Discouraged.
We’ve all known times of discouragement in both its fleeting form and its stubborn, seasonal form.
As Christians, we’re invited and encouraged to honestly experience the full spectrum of human emotion; however, there is a point when choosing to dwell on and wallow in discouragement can become sin.
Discouragement is to be dealt with, not ignored, but it ought not dictate our behavior.
Any emotion can be used as a diagnostic tool. Negative emotions, while uncomfortable and often unwelcome, can serve as instruments alerting us to what is going in on our souls, forcing us to slow down and deal with something gone awry within. As such, discouragement isn’t something to be ignored or squelched in a stiff-upper-lip way.
When my child comes home from school disgruntled and downcast, I don’t want him to harden his heart and just stoically move on. I want to hear what’s bothering him, even if it’s fairly petty in the grand scheme of things. If he lost at dodgeball or missed a spelling word, I care about those things, because I care about him. The wave of discouragement can become a window into his heart, and an avenue toward intimacy with him. To insist that he simply “get over it” would be to demand something less than human of him.
At the same time, it would be terribly unloving of me to allow my son to cry and pout all afternoon about the friend who snubbed him at lunch or the catch he missed in the game. As a parent who sees and knows more than he does, I must offer perspective and tell him what is true. He may not like it, but it will keep him from being swallowed by despondency.
Dissecting our discouragement paves a way to Christ that neither denies discouragement nor allows it to dictate.
It’s one thing to feel a wave of discouragement; it’s another to sit in a puddle of self-pity. Dissecting our discouragement paves a way to Christ that neither denies discouragement nor allows it to dictate.
When discouragement is dissected, three lies are often found wreaking havoc beneath the emotion.
1. God Promises Me a Comfortable Life
When interruptions or tragedies or discomforts pop up in our lives—and they will until Christ returns—they can expose the insidious lie that God exists to give us easy lives.
On the contrary, Christ promised his disciples they would have trouble. And yet, he accompanied this hard promise of an uncomfortable life with the soothing promise of a divine Comforter (John 14:16–18; 16:33).
2. God Should Do Things My Way
Waves of despondency have a way of shaking up the sinful silt that settles on the bottom of our souls. When we don’t get the job we’ve dreamed of, or when our family life looks different than we imagined, we often realize we’ve been bartering with heaven. While few of us would ever verbalize such a contractual approach to God, many of us say, in our hearts: Lord, I’ll do x and y; then you can give me z.
But God lovingly resists and redirects our plans, because, in his own words through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are my ways your ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8–9).
3. God Should Work According to My Timetable
Sometimes, discouragement results from gradual disappointments and hopes deferred. Long waits—whether for clarity, spouse, opportunity, children, or any other right desire—can make our souls irritable and sick. In Proverbs 13:12, Solomon observed that “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire coming is a tree of life.” When God doesn’t work on the timetable we prefer, we do well to remember that he is the deepest desire of our hearts and that he has already come. And he will come again to set all things right and usher us into glory with him forever.
Moods and moments of discouragement can be opportunities to crawl into the loving lap of the Father. There we are invited to bring our tangled knots of disappointments under his loving scrutiny. We will be met by a Father who loves us enough to receive our emotions, while also exposing the lies that often hide under discouragement’s cloak.
Again and again, our patient Father invites us to exchange our lies for his truth—the truth that sets us free.