Defeated. Deflated. Defunct. Discouraged.
As humans, we have all known times of discouragement in both its fleeting, flippant form and its stubborn, seasonal form.
As Christians, we are 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; however, at the same, discouragement must not dictate.
In his book The Place of Help, Oswald Chambers writes the following matter-of-fact, cut-to-the-chase words regarding discouragement.
“Discouragement is ‘disenchanted egotism,’ – the heart knocked out of what I want. A saint cannot be discouraged any more than Jesus Christ could be.’He will not fail nor be discouraged.’ Why? Because He never wanted anything but His Father’s will. We become discouraged because we do not like being told the truth; we look only for those things that will quicken and enliven us.”
Ouch. The heart knocked out of what I want. Disenchanted egotism. He seems to be coming in rather strong, doesn’t he?
I have a love/hate relationship with such bold statements of truth. My flesh recoils when hit with such sharp arrows of truth. I much prefer and have grown accustomed to soft, euphemistic responses, especially when it comes to emotions or emotional states. Yet, at the same time, such directly spoken truth often does far more to restore me to joy by exposing my sin than does its sugar-coated counterpart.
Any emotion can be used as a helpful indicator or 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 is not something to be ignored or shoved down in a stiff upper lip Churchillian way.
When my child comes home from school disgruntled and downcast, I don’t want him to harden his heart and just move on in stoic fashion. I want to hear what is bothering him, even if it something 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. Thus, the wave of discouragement can be used as a window into my son’s heart and an avenue of intimacy with him. To demand 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 him to cry and pout all afternoon about the friend who snubbed him at lunch or the missed catch in the game. As a parent who sees and knows more than my child, I must offer him perspective and tell him what is true. He may not like it, but it will keep him from being swallowed by despondency.
It is one thing to feel a wave of discouragement and quite another to choose to sit in a puddle of self-pity. I think that Chambers, in the aforementioned quote, was speaking to the dangerous tendency to let our moods dictate our lives rather than the Truth.
When moods and the circumstances they accompany become the lenses through which the Christian begins to view God and the world, truth gets distorted. How can God be good if…? How come this always happens to me?
Christians are to view moods and circumstances through the lens of the God of Truth, not the other way around. How does what I know to be true of Christ through the cross inform and transform my current mood or circumstances? How can this mood or this set of circumstances particularly point me to Christ? Where is there disenchanted egotism underneath this wave of despond?
Moods and moments of discouragement can be opportunities to crawl unto the loving lap of the Father. There we are invited to bring to our tangled knots of disappointments and discouragements under his loving scrutiny. We will be met with by a Father who loves us enough to listen to our emotions but will lovingly dictate what is right and true.