We all suffer moments of discouragement. But then there are those times when it’s more than simply momentary. It lasts for longer than a day or even a week. And you find yourself in a discouraging season.
It’s difficult to know what to do when that time comes. You might be tempted to feel like things will only get worse. It becomes seemingly impossible to muster even the slightest bit of optimism. It’s in times like these when we cling to our hope in Jesus.
Be reassured by the knowledge that discouraging seasons are just that–seasons. They will come and go. But in the meantime, there are a few things we can do that will help set us in the right direction, so that we can begin to find encouragement again.
Here are 4 helpful steps forward when you find yourself in a season that’s deeply discouraging.
1. Admit it to yourself (and those close to you).
Sometimes I have a hard time identifying when something’s really wrong with me. This may just be true for me, but I sense that it’s true for others as well. But when discouragement begins to well up, I usually attribute my down feelings to being a little bit tired, or having too busy of a week (or month).
Like me, you may struggle to admit when you’re not doing well. And sometimes that’s because you don’t even realize it. But there are signs that you should pay attention to.
One time when I was feeling really run down, so I decided to spend some of my vacation time and take a week off work. I didn’t really go anywhere. I did a few projects around the house I had been meaning to work on, caught up on some shows on Netflix, and ate a couple good meals at local restaurants. All things that help me to feel rested and recharged.
I fully expected that at the end of the week, I’d be as good as new and ready for what lay ahead. But I was shocked to realize that I felt no better.
I didn’t feel any more motivated or focused. I didn’t feel refreshed. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t just tired. I was discouraged. And I wasn’t sure how to fix it.
That’s a tough place to be. And that’s probably why I had subconsciously chosen to ignore it for as long as I did. But admitting your discouragement to yourself and to those close to you is a powerful first step in a better way forward.
2. Don’t act emotionally, but follow your emotions to discovery.
Once you’ve identified that you’re discouraged, you need to discover why you’re discouraged. And it’s in this moment that you need to guard yourself from acting emotionally.
You may be tempted to act rashly without fully understanding the situation in which you find yourself. So in order to avoid doing or saying something you’ll later regret, you need to exercise restraint.
But that isn’t to say that our emotions aren’t telling us anything important. They’re alerting us to everything important. So we need to listen to them.
That isn’t always easy. And that’s because emotions are a lot like the Check Engine light on your dashboard. The light alerts you that something’s wrong with your engine. But you need to take it to your mechanic to see exactly what it is (and brace yourself for how much it’s going to cost you to fix it).
Discouragement can be that way. You have to set out to discover its cause.
Sometimes, it’s something simple. For example, you might just be doing too much. You need to thin your schedule, because regardless of how hard you’re trying you keep dropping the ball.
Other times, it’s more complicated. Maybe you’ve been carrying around an ungrieved loss or an unresolved hurt. That can take longer to unpack and realign.
It can take time to discover the root of your discouragement. But take heart in the fact that yours is a struggle that is as old as humanity itself. The psalmists of the Old Testament can certainly identify with your struggle. Here’s what one of them writes.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?”
We should likewise ask these questions of our own souls, and see where the answers lead us. And as you discover the root of your discouragement, what remains is what you ought to do about it.
3. When necessary, make decisive changes.
As I began to explore why I felt discouraged, I began to realize that I needed a change of scenery. As I looked at the job position I was in, I came to understand that I was in a place that wasn’t necessarily a good fit for me. And that was causing me to feel frustrated–like I couldn’t fully be myself. Trying to accommodate misaligned expectations was wearing me out. It was time for a change.
And so after praying and seeking counsel from wise people who care about me, I decided to make a change. I stepped aside from the role I was in and into the unknown. I wasn’t sure how it would make me feel. And not everyone agreed with my decision.
But as I made that decision, I knew it was the right one. I felt like the weight of the world was off my shoulders. My discouragement began to dissipate.
Once I had stepped toward the new, my sense of joy came back. And I didn’t even have to know exactly what I was walking toward. In many ways, I still don’t know. But I do know that our God is the God of the new.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)
Sometimes you need to let go of some old things in your life in order to allow God to do something beautifully new.
Other times, you don’t necessarily need to step into a new situation, but rather you must re-enter the same situation with a new perspective. And that calling will require decisive changes of its own. But God truly can breathe new life into the old. And you’ll never find that more evident than when you seek him and he breathes new life into you.
4. Find encouragement in community.
Along your entire journey, one constant you need in your life is a network of people whom you care about and who care about you. They will help you process. They will bring words of encouragement and prayer. You will be able to lean on them as you try to find your way.
Community is a spiritual necessity, not a luxury. And that’s never more evident than when you’re in dire need of encouragement.
Lean on your community to give you wisdom and to keep you from becoming your own worst enemy. We tend to do that when we’re discouraged. Allow them to help you differentiate the lies in your head with the honest facts of a situation. Ask them to pray for you and with you.
When you have a community that cares for you, you can get through just about anything. But you need to be responsible to reach out and connect. Don’t expect others to read your mind. Pull in closer rather than pulling away. You won’t regret that you did.
Discouraged, but not dismayed.
The apostle Paul constantly encountered things that discouraged him. He was often threatened, beaten, and imprisoned. People who worked with him in his ministry let him down. There were times when he felt betrayed. There were times when his efforts were met with apparent failure.
But he never let any of that discouragement ruin his sense of hope in Jesus.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
Throughout the course of your life, you will experience many things that are deeply discouraging. But as you follow Jesus, even as you experience tragedy and heartache, you will also see the power of God made evident in your life.
So while you are discouraged, do not be dismayed. Don’t lose heart. “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)