dis-cour-age-ment (dis-kerijment) noun; a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness
I don’t think I have ever been depressed, or at least clinically depressed. But then again, isn’t that something a depressed person would say? Still, I don’t think I have ever suffered from depression. I guess I’m to stubborn…or stupid.
Have I ever suffered from burn out? Yes. More than once.
Have I ever been on the verge of depression? Probably. Ok, yes. (I need to quit living in denial.)
While I have never been depressed, I do have a running battle with discouragement. If I am honest with myself, I think I have PTSD (Pastoral Trauma Stress Disorder).
In my younger days of ministry I did not lack confidence. In fact, in my immaturity, I was arrogant. The other day I wrote in my journal that God has been working on my pride for most of my life in ministry. He’s still working on my pride.
I’m an enneagram 5w6. Among other things that means I have a desire to be seen as competent and useful. I fear being incompetent. I want my life to count. I want to make a difference. I want to be heard. My greatest frustration is when I feel like people are trying to silence me, or just not listening to me. Unfortunately, these desires, fears, and frustrations, lead to discouragement.
Compounding the problem is when I am stressed, I withdraw. I have to think things through on my own. I have to figure things out by myself. I have to process in silence. This leads to feelings of loneliness and/or discouragement. I like solitude, but I don’t like loneliness. The good news is, as a 5w6, I usually find my way out of discouragement before it leads to depression. I usually make practical, logical decisions. The more difficult and complex something is, the more likely I will eventually come up with a workable solution. I just have to go through the process, and part of that process is dealing with discouragement. I guess that is my “thorn in the flesh.” I’m not sure if being a 5w6 is ideal for pastoral ministry. But pastoral ministy is my calling and has been for more than 30 years. I pray I have been faithful, and I pray I will continue to be faithful.
One year ago this week in March (the first full week of March), was my last “normal week.” I was at a retreat in Mississippi with some good friends when our world changed forever. It’s been a difficult year. I haven’t handled it very well. This past year has been a constant battle with discouragement But God is faithful, and I will continue to place my complete faith in God.
There are three thing I’ve noticed about my own struggles with discouragement: (1) I get most discouraged when things are going well. In other words, I am discouraged when I should not be. Give me bad news, or confront me with a crisis, and I will remain calm and usually rise to the challenge. But when things are going well that’s when I am most vulnerable to discouragement. I know it sounds odd, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. (2) My discouragement usually comes from a word spoken, or an action taken, from a friend. Most of the time, I think these “arrows from a friend” are unintentional and unknown by the friend. Nevertheless, I’ve never had an “enemy” discourage me. Just my friends. I don’t blame them. Like I said, most of the time they don’t know what they said or did discouraged me. It’s my own struggle. So, I keep it between myself and God, and sometimes my wife. (3) Another source of my discouragement is when I get off schedule. I am routine oriented. Take away my routine and I become disoriented. I think that is why I have struggled over this past year. I still don’t know what the new normal is.
I think David struggled with discouragement. In fact, I think a lot of musicians struggle with discouragement. Lots of great art is born out of great discouragement. On one occasion, David was “greatly distressed” because his “friends” were shooting arrows at him. The Bible says in the middle of his discouragement, “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (1 Samuel 30:6). Sometimes that is the only thing you can do. You can’t always count on someone else to encourage you. Sometimes you have to do it alone, depending on God alone to encourage you.
Over the years, here are some things I do to strengthen myself in God when I am discouraged.
- Admit it to God. I do this by journaling. In my journal I am open, honest, and vulnerable. I tell God exactly how I feel. I don’t hold back. I don’t worry about offending God. I don’t think my genuine emotions can offend God. I know God loves me and I think God knows I love Him. At times, my relationship with God is real and raw.
- Reach out to someone. Sometimes, all you need is time talk it through. After words you feel better. I process things by keeping them inside. But I know, eventually, I need to share my struggles with someone else. Just today I reached out to a friend for prayer. My friend encouraged me. He also gave me some solid advice, which I share with you through the next bullet point.
- Do what brings you life. This could be a hobby or a part of your ministry that enjoy but have neglected. One thing that brings me life is visiting my friends in prison. I have not been able to do that for over a year now. That may be one reason why I am battling discouragement. Another thing that brings me life is going a cruise with my wife. Last year, while we were in New Orleans waiting to get on a ship, our cruise got cancelled. That was really discouraging!
- Listen to praise and worship music. I’m a news junkie. Unfortunately, the news can be a source of discouragement. So, I have learned when I am discouraged to turn off the news and turn on good, uplifting music.
- Do something. Go for a walk. Read a book. Volunteer somewhere. Complete that menial task you have been avoiding. This is different from the point above about doing something that brings you life. This is doing something that will simply get your mind off what has you discouraged.
- Read the Psalms. I find the psalms incredibly encouraging. Many of those psalms are about David’s own struggle with discouragement. God’s Word will speak to you if you will just open it and read it. As you read the psalms, pray them back to God.
I know someone needs to hear this. When discouraged learn to strengthen yourself in your God. Then, pick yourself up and keep going. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Do you have an ongoing battle with discouragement? If so, what do you do to pull yourself out of it? Please let me know. Let’s encourage each other with our stories about discouragement.