Spikes and Surges: Discouragement

If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a time of great personal growth ahead – Oswald Chambers.

Not Yet Out Of The Woods

We have heard “surges and spikes” recently as the pandemic that sent the year into a tail-spin shows no signs of letting up. When everyone thought it was time for some sort of normalcy, many leaders are scaling back plans to reopen. Here in the U.S., these surges are happening at alarming rates, causing concern: Many small business owners have had  to shut down their businesses for good in light of the second round of restrictions and closures. Statistics show that one-third of small businesses, which are the backbone of the economy, may never reopen. As the race for a vaccine presses on, single-day records for cases continue to be the norm.

But the effect of these surges and spikes are not only impacting day to day operations, they also have an effect on our hearts. There are enough unknowns right now to fill an ocean. As the eighth month of the year begins, I am convinced that there is greater hope now than earlier in the year. But this does not negate these four surges and spikes that are occurring parallel to the surges in COVID-19 cases. This month will feature the four surges and how to combat them in our lives:

  1. Discouragement (8/6/20)
  2. Distress (8/13/20)
  3. Depression (8/20/20)
  4. Disconnection (8/27/20)

Let’s begin with discouragement, a state which is as commonplace as the face masks we have to wear.

The Greatest Tool Never Sold

One day, the Devil decided to hold a “going out of business” sale. Of course, being the devil it was a lie. He put out all his tools – malice, hatred, jealousy, envy, greed, among others. Off to the side was a highly-priced wedge-shaped tool. It was well worn but still commanded a high price; no one could afford it. When asked, the devil replied, “Oh, that’s discouragement. It is worn yet priced so high because it is by far my most effective tool.” 

Causes of Discouragement

Defined as a loss or deprivation of confidence, enthusiasm, or hope, discouragement comes with the temptation to quit or give up. Dr. Tony Evans calls it, “when your get up and go has gotten up and gone.” When discouragement strikes, it aims to deflate us. One significant trigger of discouragement is pressure. And everyone is feeling the squeeze in one way or another. From hospitals to our homes, pressure is palpable around us. In considerable amounts, pressure moves into our hearts and minds, leading to discouragement. Fatigue is another trigger that can cause discouragement, especially when there seems to be no end in sight for this pandemic. Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion will push us into the path of discouragement. A third trigger is unmet expectations, which have mainly affected small business owners who hoped to get back on track after the reopenings, only to have those hopes dashed by enforced closure due to surges in COVID-19 cases. 

Discouragement In My Life

The power behind discouragement is isolation. In my own life, I have discovered a tendency to hide in the cave of isolation, or like a turtle, tuck my head back into the thick shell of manhood believing that I can sort it all out on my own. In isolation discouragement does its damage.  And on thinking how discouragement affects my life when it comes by way of pressure, fatigue, or unmet expectations, this articulation by J.R. Miller captures it well:

“Discouragement cherished leads to despondency and despair. Even if it does not grow to such sad ripeness, it works grievous harm in a life. It produces a noxious atmosphere, in which all the lamps burn but dimly. It weakens one’s moral purposes, and paralyzes one’s energies. A discouraged man is only half himself. He takes hold of duty with only half his usual earnestness. His feet drag wearily as he goes about his duties. Discouragement makes the hard path—much harder; and the heavy load—much heavier. We should live continually so that our life shall make it easier for others to live; never to be hinderers—but always helpers, of others.”

Understanding the negative impact of discouragement, combating it should be a priority in our lives.  

Combating Discouragement

Pastor John Piper says, “If we linger in discouragement, it can be costly. Its sense of defeat and hopelessness saps us of energy and vision.” Its detrimental nature can also be contagious, weakening others. Therefore fighting discouragement is not just for the good of our own lives, but for those, we are close to.

In talking about the urgency of combating discouragement, Piper continues to say, 

“Think of discouragement as your faith being choked. When you’re choking, it’s not the time to plop down in front of the TV with a plate of comfort food to medicate your melancholy. You need to dislodge the obstruction so you can breathe. You need to fight for life. You may need to get someone to give you the Heimlich.” 

Growing through Discouragement

As a person of faith, my response in times of discouragement, especially when it drives me to isolation, is honest prayer; I pour my heart out to God. I believe that God, Creator of heaven and earth and in whose image and likeness, He created me, has what I need to overcome my discouragement. I cease to turn inward and look upward. Then, I find reason to be grateful in the middle of discouragement. Gratitude acts as a pressure relief valve, limiting the amount of pressure in my heart and mind. Next, being dependent on God’s word, I locate His promises to help dislodge the discouragement. I also talk to trusted friends about my discouragement. As Piper said, they may need to give me a mental or emotional Heimlich. Finally, I make it my duty to be an encourager, to serve others. In doing so, I have found encouragement for myself. 

Final Thought: Discouragement is after our hope. It seeks to steal our enthusiasm and passion for life. By dimming our light, discouragement keeps us stagnant, stuck in the cave of isolation as it saps us of what we need to press on in life. As effective as it is, I believe the steps to combat it are well matched to defeat this surge when applied. Don’t wallow in discouragement, fight it. Look ahead and you will experience more growth.

Keep on keeping on!

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