Monday, October 03, 2005

Discouragement and Some Antidotes

I've been thinking lately about discouragement. (That's partly because I've been wrestling with feeling a bit discouraged about a few things in my life and because I've been dealing with lots of other folks coping with some sizeable cases of discouragement.)

This morning, in an unsystematic way, I jotted down a few things that cause discouragement. The list includes:
1. Things not going the ways we want them to go
2. People not cooperating with us
3. Being taken for granted by others
4. Persistent failure (or the perception of persistent failure)
5. Taking the short view of things
6. Feeling that nothing we do matters
7. Financial difficulties
8. Insufficient reliance on God
9. Shame, something that comes to us when we either refuse to accept God's forgiveness for past sins or when we have sinned and refuse to repent, allowing the sin to become part of our personal make-ups.
Here are a few antidotes for discouragement that I listed:

1. Altering our expectations. Notice I didn't say "lowering" our expectations! One example of altered expectations would include accepting that things don't always go our ways and so, having the humility and sense of humor to try our best and let the chips fall where they may, as the saying goes.

Another might be accepting that, contrary to the Coldplay song, Fix You, we can't fix other people or make them do what we want them to do. Why would we aspire to be such control freaks that we would want to "fix" people anyway?

2. Accepting that I'm not God. I believe it was Chuck Swindoll who first alerted me to two fundamental facts about life that lead both to sanity and faith: God is God; I'm not.

3. Learning to pray and really mean, "Your will be done." That's the central and most important petition of the Lord's Prayer, the template prayer taught by Jesus.

Don't misunderstand: There is a difference between faith and fatalism! But once we've prayed and tried our hardest--in our relationships, in our work, and so on, we need to be able to let it go and to let God be in charge.

4. Related to #3, rely on God. One of the most common prayers I'm offering to God these days is a simple one: "Help!" or "Help so and so!" or "Help me!" I used to try to micromanage God, describing in detail how I thought he should go about helping me or others. But if it's true that God is God and I'm not, this is a bit presumptuous.

What, someone might ask, about the statement in the Old Testament that if we approach God in prayer, He'll give us the desires of our hearts?

I believe that the deeper we go in our relationships with God, the more our desires will be reflective of His will and even when they're not, our greatest desire will be that God's will be done.

Besides, there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling God what we want, so long as we're willing to accept that He may have better ideas than we do. (The may in that last sentence is meant to be ironic, folks.)

5. When daunted by a seeming profusion of failures, count your successes. The old Irving Berlin song sung by Bing Crosby in the movie, White Christmas, says, "When I grow weary and I can't sleep/I count my blessings instead of sheep/And I fall asleep, counting my blessings."

Homely advice? Terminally unhip? Yes and yes. But still valid advice. When things are going poorly, it's easy to fall prey to thinking that everything always has been and always will be lousy. Remembering blessings reminds us that this isn't true.

Some people I know keep their prayers in a notebook and as each one is answered, sometimes in ways they never would have anticipated, they make note of the answers and the dates on which they learned of these blessings.

Years ago, I began a habit of putting all the thank you notes I receive into file folders. When I'm feeling discouraged, I leaf through those notes. They remind me that I'm not as incompetent or unworthy as I might be feeling in my discouraged state.

However you do it, counting your successes--so long as you don't take too much credit for them--is one more antidote for discouragement.

6. Because some forms of discouragement stem from sin and its consequences, repentance and acceptance of God's grace is another antidote for discouragement.

God is gracious. That means that He has our best interests at heart and that in spite of our imperfections, He willingly forgives those who turn from their sin (which is what repentance means) and sends His Holy Spirit to help them avoid that sin in the future.

There's a big difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is God's way of getting our attention. The person without a capacity for guilt can't sense forgiveness or know the joy of having God renew them. Guilt drives us to the God we know in Christ, where we can find brand new starts and God's love for us.

A passage in the New Testament says this:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (First John 1:9-10)
Shame, on the other hand, walls us off from God. It makes us think that we are our sin, makes us despair, overwhelmed by the seeming futility of our lives.

We need to let God love us to restoration and healing.

Just a few thoughts on discouragement and how to combat it.

11 comments:

bluhaze said...

Amen.

God does heal us and praying your will with all good expectations is how I cope.

Those expectations (good) may be short time coming or long, but they always come and usually not in the exact way I would have originally prayed.

bluhaze said...

That comment seemed to come out wrong..praying God Your Will with good expectations..

Mark Daniels said...

Ambience:
Thank you so much for dropping by and for your comments. I understood what you meant. Expecting the best from God, even when we don't understand it at first, is always a sure bet!

Mark

Jackie Bolen said...

Thanks for checking out my blog. That is a great list you got going on there. There is a lot of talk about spirituality on the blogosphere...pretty cool.

Bowden McElroy said...

Great List! I think (1) and (5) are directly related to discouragement. The greater the gap between where I think I am (especially if I've not counted my blessings) and where I think I ought to be... the greater the discouragement.

Mark Daniels said...

Bowden:
Thanks so much for your comments. Because you're a counselor, they're particularly meaningful, making me think that I'm not entirely "off the beam" on this subject of discouragement.

Mark

Busy Mom said...

What great advice, I hope things look up for you soon.

Mark Daniels said...

Busy Mom:
Thanks for your comments...and your encouragement.

My discouragement is of the minor variety. But it has heightened my sensitivity to some of what other folks are going through right now.

God bless!

Mark

Rocco said...

Wow! I sure wish I could tell half the time if it's shame or guilt I'm feeling these days.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Here's another thank-you note for you to add to your folder, Mark. Thank you for this post and for your more recent post on discouragement -- and ones to come, too. It's a subject I think about a lot. Your understanding of life, of human joy and sorrow, always bridges the denominational gap between us, and teaches me much.

Mark Daniels said...

Rocco:
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to answer your concern directly.

Shame, as I see it, is the devaluing of ourselves based on the notion that the wrong thing we've done shows us a character trait that's pervasive and insusceptible to redemption. Shame leads to despair, hopelessness.

Guilt, on the other hand, to borrow a phrase used by C.S. Lewis to describe another phenomenon entirely, is God's megaphone. Guilt is the clanging of an alert system warning us that we have transgressed love for God and love for neighbor. Guilt doesn't denigrate our person unless we choose to ignore its message to us. Guilt instead, can bring healing if, on discerning it, we turn to God in repentance and receive His power for renewal, forgiveness, and brand new starts.

Richard:
As always, I deeply appreciate your comments! While I'd be lying if I said that my ego isn't mixed up in the reasons I do this blog, I hope that primarily, I want to be helpful. If what I wrote on this subject is helpful to you, that's great!

Thanks again!

Mark