A friend called me the other day, and he was discouraged. He asked me how I deal with discouragement.
The word discouragement comes from the root word courage. The prefix dis- means “the opposite of.” So discouragement is the opposite of courage. When we are discouraged, we have lost the motivation to press forward. The mountain seems too steep, the valley too dark, or the battle too fierce, and we lose the courage to continue.
I don’t know how to explain it, but discouragement always comes.
I really wish it didn’t. It comes at the most random times. It will come when things in the ministry are not going the way I had planned, which can be expected. The thing that gets me is that it even comes when all things are going well, God is visibly moving, students are being saved, events are bringing new students and they are sticking around, and leaders are working so hard. It still comes.
It’s random. It’s sporadic. It’s devastating at times and hurts so bad.
If we know that discouragement comes with the territory (sorry if this is the first time you are hearing this now), what are some ways to work through it? I thought I would write down some personal ways I have coped:
Have someone to vent/talk things through with. I cannot tell you enough how grateful I am for the people who allow me to do this. I am a verbal processor, so I like to talk it out. When I talk it out I usually am able to figure out the best response because I just talk it through and figure it out. Just having someone to listen and ask some prodding questions is so helpful. They can also tell you when you are being ridiculous and that you need to calm down.
Retreat monthly. I don’t know if many churches do this, but I am grateful that mine allows this. We have what our church calls a “renewal day” which does not count towards vacation that allows pastors to get away for the day and rest, think, pray through, dream and plan for the future. What that day looks like per person is different. For me, I get up early, head to the beach, find a coffee shop and read, journal, pray through, brainstorm what the future could look like and then head to the beach and listen to some worship music and write down prayers. It’s a beautiful thing and is just that, a “renewal day”. If you can swing this once a month, it’s life-giving.
Read notes. When I first got to my church, a student made me a “compliment box” (if you don’t have one, make one. Doug Fields talks about this in his book First Two Years as well and it works) and they started it off with some encouraging notes in it. As I got notes, emails, cards, I just piled them in there. Every once in a while when discouragement is bad, I file through there and it’s amazing how much it works. It also makes me think, “If words are so uplifting, am I being as uplifting as I need to be with our leaders and students and encouraging them?”
Ask for prayer. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I have a bad habit of pretending that I have everything together. I am the leader, so I need to, right? I’m not good at this, but when I ask for prayer from my spouse, team, friends, or whomever you have in your corner, it is a really big deal. Why is it that I as a pastor think it’s so hard to ask for prayer when I am discouraged? I can think of a few reasons: pride, the illusion of having it all together, caring too much what people think of me, thinking I can do this all on my own….. I can keep going. But I know you probably have some of the same thoughts.
Remember God’s promises. The key to overcoming discouragement is to remember God’s promises and apply them as personal truths. When we know the Lord, we can stand upon the promises He has given His people in His Word. Whether or not we see the fulfillment of those promises in this life, His promises still stand. Know them and write them down. A website I stumbled across and now frequent is 365Promises.com where they highlight God’s promises daily and write a little bit about it. It’s just good to know what God promises to us and know that He keeps all His promises.
Often, it is pride, greed, or covetousness that is feeding our discouragement. A sense of entitlement can worm its way into our hearts and highlight the discrepancy between what we have and what we believe we are owed. When we recognize that attitude as sin, we can repent, humble ourselves, and let the Holy Spirit readjust our expectations. When we train ourselves to recognize discouragement as a reminder that our priorities have become skewed, the feeling of discouragement can become a refining tool to make us more like Jesus.
The psalmist was no stranger to discouragement, and his response was to remember God and trust the promises of the Word:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you”