6 steps to overcome discouragement

praying-womanBy Matt Sapp

It’s A Wonderful Life opens with a conversation between God, St. Peter and Clarence, angel second-class. Clarence is about to get his big chance as a guardian angel, and upon hearing that his charge, George Bailey, is in desperate need of his services, Clarence asks with urgency, “What’s wrong? Is he sick?”

To which God replies, “No. Worse. He’s discouraged.”

Discouragement is the worst. It sneaks up on us. It’s hard to pinpoint a single moment when discouragement sets in, but discouragement finds its way into all of our hearts at one time or another, and it’s an awful way to feel.

When we’re discouraged we feel incapable, unaccomplished, lost, like we’ve ventured too far into the woods without realizing it and are sure we can’t find our way back.

Uncertainty is a key source of discouragement. A lot of churches today face uncertain futures, so it’s easy for clergy and lay leaders to give in to discouragement.  A lot of families today aren’t as stable as they’d like to be—financially and otherwise—so it’s easy for families to feel discouraged, too.

Unexpected financial setbacks, health scares, relationships gone bad—you name it, most people are one life event away from disaster, and that in and of itself can be discouraging. Discouragement drains energy, stifles motivation, clouds vision, and leads to paralyzing anxiety and inaction.

So, I hope you’re not experiencing discouragement right now, but if you are, let me suggest six things you can do when you’re discouraged.

  1. Take The Long View

Step back and see the big picture. Sometimes the sources of our discouragement are much smaller than they appear. When we see the big picture we can give ourselves credit for progress and success that discouragement seeks to hide from us.

Seeing the big picture allows us to view setbacks as momentary and gives us the perspective to envision creative and healthy ways to move beyond our present circumstances.

  1. Evaluate Shortcomings

When we’re discouraged, unless we’re just dreadfully off base, it’s usually because of a real obstacle or setback in our lives. So one of the first things you can do when you discover that you’re discouraged is to honestly evaluate the circumstances that have led you to this point.

What are your individual shortcomings? Are there organizational or family shortcomings involved? Have changes to the larger culture or the environment contributed to your discouragement? Use your discouragement as an opportunity for honest evaluation.

  1. Make A Plan

Once you’ve evaluated your situation, make a plan. When we’re discouraged, it’s easy to feel like we are being carried along by forces beyond our control.  Active planning helps us feel in control again.

Outline necessary changes. Figure out what it will take to overcome the present obstacles. Are there things that you can do better? Are there things you need to do more? How about routines or habits or patterns you need to change? Are there new realities you need to accept or new environments you need to explore? Make a plan.

  1. Resolve To Act

Put your plan into action. Go ahead, give it a shot. Don’t wait for the perfect time or the perfect circumstances. Realize that failure will always be a possible outcome of action. And then act anyway.

And don’t let one bad day or one bad outcome get you off track. Keep plugging along, each day resolving to do what that day requires of you.

  1. Remember That God Is In Control

It doesn’t all depend on you. Discouragement becomes such a heavy burden because we delude ourselves into thinking that we have to climb out of the pit alone. But we don’t. As Christians, we have the supportive community and partnership of God and God’s people—a repository of healthy relationships on which to draw when the events of life seem overwhelming.

So when you need it, ask for help–in prayer and from your Christian community. Don’t have a Christian community? Then find a church to attend this Sunday.

  1. Encourage Someone Else

Finally, remember, the opposite of discouragement is encouragement. Use your own discouragement as a reminder to be an encourager to others around you. Where discouragement drains energy, stifles motivation, clouds vision and leads to inaction, encouragement does just the opposite.

It provides energy, creates motivation, clears vision and leads to action.

We all need encouragement, and the Bible is a great place to find it. In fact, that might be the most important thing for me to do when I’m discouraged. Usually when I’m discouraged I discover that I haven’t been reading my Bible like I should.

In John 16, Jesus tells us that he comes to share God’s truth with us so that we might be encouraged, saying, “I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world!” Sometimes, that’s all I need to hear.

Daylily reminds us to rejoice in the day the Lord has made

Wild Daylily HEMEROCALLIS FULVA

Wild Daylily
HEMEROCALLIS FULVA

By Orrin Morris

Charles Dickens penned a famous first line that states, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”   That is the way I look at our current situation — locally, nationally and internationally.

There are many good things happening all about us and around the world.  At the same time, there are some terrible things occurring.  We make a serious mistake if we focus on one to the exclusion of the other.

A verse in Psalm 118 has been a guide for me from the time I memorized it in Sunday School over 70 years ago:

This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

This is not a Pollyanna response, but a challenge to accept the fact that God gives life.  If God wanted me to live in another era, He would have so chosen.  Thus, I view “this day” as His affirmation that my uniqueness is needed now to make a difference.  Since I am His adopted child by grace, I have tasks to perform that should benefit those with whom I have a relationship.

Make this verse a buffer against being overwhelmed by the evil that surrounds us, because, “This is the day which the Lord has made…”  And, speaking of “days,” let us examine the common daylily.

The wild daylily, often called the orange daylily, is the lazy gardener’s best friend. These flowers range from 2 to 6 feet tall and require very little attention. They adapt to their surroundings, wherever there is water, and grow at an exponential rate every year.

The wild daylily is a hybrid from Eurasian species.  It does not produce seeds, as do other species of the lily family.  Instead, it spreads from the tough rootstocks.  When the rootstock must be divided, a hatchet or limb saw is needed.  They are unlike the bulbs or corms of the other lilies that are more easily divided by hand.

Another difference within the lily family is the way it blooms on a single leafless stalk.  Stalks of other lilies have various configurations of leaves: in whorls (Turk’s-cap lily), opposites (tiger lily) and triplets (most trilliums).  The leaves of the daylily are long and sword-like, rising from the base of the stalk.

A third difference is that the wild daylily bloom is short-lived.  It blooms from May to July, but may grow earlier or later depending on the season.  The rusty-orange bloom is trumpet-shaped and generally has six petals.

A daylily’s habitat includes fields and waste places. There are large clusters of daylilies throughout Rockdale County, and clusters usually indicate the site of a former homestead.

Just as a daylily finds a home wherever it grows, find a home in God today.  This day is yours, so rejoice that God has counted you worthy to serve Him in it.

Ministers, like parishioners, often face depression

In my last post, I wrote of my mini-sabbatical from church and the importance of taking a sabbatical as part of a minister’s spiritual journey.  Sabbaticals are important because they give ministers the space and time to tend to their own personal issues, many of which originate from family, spiritual, marital, and mental strain.  Without the type of release a sabbatical offers, a minister’s work can get the best of him.

Two days before my article printed, Major N. M. Hasan, a military psychiatrist, murdered thirteen individuals at Ft. Hood.  There are several theories why Hasan killed others, but what is most peculiar to me is that Hasan was a psychiatrist.  He belongs to a profession committed to heal people not hurt them.

Hasan’s situation was unique; it is rare that a healthcare provider murders another in cold blood.  It is not uncommon, however, that many healthcare providers face overwhelming job stress and pressure that leads to unhappy endings.  In 2008 the American Medical Association reported that suicide rates among doctors were higher than the national average.  That’s roughly 400 doctors a year.

The reason that healthcare providers commit suicide is because they neglect dealing with distress, depression, and mental illness for the sake of their career.    Ours is a society that expects doctors to be stable and healthy; any sign to the contrary compromises the doctor’s reputation.  Instead of dealing with their issues, healthcare providers suppress their suffering.  Eventually, the stress becomes too much to bear.

As healthcare providers of a different type, ministers also face extreme stress and depression.  Ministers are spiritual pillars of a community, and, like doctors, they find it hard to reach out for help when help is most needed.  Greg Warner, writing for the “Biblical Recorder,” noted that a quarter of all pastors struggle with depression at any given time, many of whom fail to seek treatment with a licensed counselor.

In several other studies on depression among clergy, ministers have cited various reasons for experiencing distress.  Some reasons include job loss, pressure to grow a church, trying to meet unrealistic expectations, and failing to make deep relational connections with trusted support systems.

If ministers do not attend to their spiritual, mental or emotional health over time, their issues can build up and lead to symptoms that we have seen in the public sphere: Pastors get caught committing adultery, engaging in pornography, disengaging from a church, or preaching macabre sermons that lack hope.  Any one of these can be a sign that a minister is not taking steps in dealing with his inner demons.

Talking candidly about ministerial depression or mental illness remains taboo, but churches must take steps to help their clergy face the realities of stress.  Some churches do so by building into the minister’s salary a stipend for professional development or therapy.  In turn, ministers are more open about struggles in which prayer is needed regarding areas of family, finances, marriage, sin, or grief.

Another way churches can help is by encouraging staff regularly.  Writing cards, sending emails of encouragement, providing constructive feedback on sermons, and praying for a pastor can make a world of difference.  Pastors are better prepared to serve churches when they feel their congregations treat them as normal human beings.

In a tech-savvy and therapeutic-centered society, many resources are now available to ministers and doctors who need help with distress.  Retreat houses, therapists, spiritual directors, and pastoral counselors stand ready to help our ministers, but ministers need for us to let them know that seeking help is okay.  Ministers are a part of the Body of Christ and need edification and intervention just   like the rest of us.