Why, hello there, devoted internet audience. Guess what?
I’m still alive!
Yes, I know, it’s quite a surprise. I vanished off the face of the earth after Christmas Eve, and I’m sure you all assumed that I died of a severe case of pie overdose. But fear not! That was not the case. No, indeed; instead, I was merely buried under a horiffically large pile of responsibilities. Quite a frightening place to be, I must say.
In fact, I’m still buried under the aforementioned pile of important to-do’s. But today, I have the opportunity to write! Good news! Unfortunately, it comes with some bad news. I only have free time because, as it turns out, I’m rather sick.
Obviously, being sick is not a particularly enjoyable experience. Apparently I have some sort of dreadful respiratory virus, which has me stuck at home, coughing and reading and coughing and pacing and coughing and wondering what to do with myself.
So, of course, I’m doing the only logical option I have available. I’m writing!
Now that you’re all caught up on my situation, let’s talk a little about what I actually sat down to write about. I’d like to start by making an important confession:
Sometimes, I get discouraged.
I know, it’s a shocker. I am, after all, the perpetual optimist; the spirited go-getter; the unflappable idealist. But my outward persona of whimsical nonchalance belies the most essential elements of my personality. Beneath the shell of carefree casualness, I have a particularly reactive spirit. My composure is effected strongly by my circumstances. I typically have the strength of will to disguise my inward reaction, but make no mistake: my feelings and emotions are easily roused. I am a man of words and ideas; I operate on ideals and principles, and those principles are easily provoked.
As such, I have a tendency to react powerfully to emotionally turbulent experiences. I respond rapidly with exuberant joy to situations that excite me; but I am also prone to quickly-rising anger or hard-hitting sorrow.
Simply put, I am impacted quickly and powerfully on the inside when it’s often not visible on the outside.
Most of the time, I consider this to be a kind of blessing. It is this element of my personality that makes me a natural writer, a poet, and a storyteller. One of the primary ways that I process things internally is by expressing them communicatively; through my speaking and my writing, I seek to understand and share my feelings.
But this piece of my nature has some negative consequences, as well. One of the chief difficulties that arises from this tendency is that I am easily disappointed by disheartening situations. When I lose a game, regardless of how inconsequential the game, I tend to be pretty crushed. When I find myself unable to participate in something that I enjoy, I am quickly frustrated. When I am unable to overcome some obstacle, I easily become discouraged.
All of this to say, I get disappointed. Life gets to me. As much as I’d like to pretend that I’m immune to the wear and tear of daily life, the truth is, I get broken down just as easily as the next guy.
In fact, I’m feeling that a little bit right now. I’ve been sick for a few weeks now. I very rarely get sick at all, so this experience is rather foreign to me, and more than a little bit disconcerting. I’m behind on schoolwork because of my frequent speech and debate touranments, and my sickness has only compounded the problem. I’m trying to figure out my college plans, and earn enough scholarships to afford those plans, and keep up my grades, and finish my last semester of guitar teaching, and so on and so forth, and it’s stressful.
Honestly, I’ve been feeling rather beat down lately.
My first reaction to this kind of discouragement is typically to bury it. I feel like I’ve done something wrong by being discouraged; so I try to suck it up and push on, ignoring my lack of emotional motivation. But this approach rarely works. When I shove my discouragement aside, I only save up greater problems for later. Eventually, it will catch up with me, and I will have only delayed my inevitable struggle. At some point, I always have to deal with my discouragement. And that’s not an easy thing to do.
But here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with experiencing discouragment. It’s natural to have an emotional reaction to emotionally trying times. There’s no reason to feel guilty when you have a hard time finding the motivation to press on. It’s completely OK to admit that you’re struggling in the fight. Whether it’s at schoool, or at work, or in a relationship, or in any other arena of our lives, we all face times of trial. It’s only natural to feel beaten down and broken during these tribulations. There’s nothing wrong with having those feelings, because ultimately, we can never escape the painful realities of our world.
However, we do have the power to decide how we will respond to discouragement; and it’s vital that we take control of our own reactions to trying times. We can’t determine our circumstances, but we can control our own actions, and it’s in times of difficulty and discouragement that our own decisions can be the most important. God commands us in the Scriptures to fight against discouragement. In Joshua 1:9, the LORD commands the Israelites to “be strong and courageous,” and not to be “dismayed” (ESV) or “discouraged” (NIV).
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
The Hebrew word translated here as “dismayed” is the verb “ḥātat,” which is also translated as “shattered.” God is commanding us not to be “shattered” or broken by our circumstances, but to remain strong. Why? Not because of our own strength, but because “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
That fact is, we live in a shattered world. In Romans 8:22, Paul writes that the whole creation is “groaning,” as in the “pains of childbirth,” as it awaits its coming redemption. Every one of us has to deal with this “groaning” in our lives. There will undoubtedly be discouraging times, and it’s easy to give up. Living in a broken world, it’s easy to be broken ourselves. But we are not called to be broken. We are called to be mended; broken people put back together by the redemptive work of our Savior. That is why James tells us to consider it joy when we encounter trials. Joy! We are to rejoice in our sufferings; for just as Christ suffered, and was brought through His suffering into the eternal joy that was set before Him, we find restoration and healing when we endure the effects of our present brokenness.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Even as I am discouraged, I can find encouragement in the knowledge that discouraging times are ultimately only an opportunity for me to grow in my own steadfastness and in my dependence on God. I may be sick, and stressed, and buried under a seemingly insurmountable pile of responsibilities. But ultimately, this is nothing more than an opportunity for me; and that’s true for you, too. Whatever discouragement is seeking to beat you down, whatever heartache is threatening to break you, I urge you to view it as an opportunity to overcome; not by your own strength, but by Christ, who strengthens you. Whatever you’re facing today, it’s not a reason to despair; it’s a challenge, a trial, a battle to fight- and a battle to win.