Fighting Discouragement

Yesterday I fought against discouragement–for no apparent reason. Except perhaps that I was over-tired. In fact, I’m starting to notice a pattern, and although I usually keep my “down days” to myself, I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t not alone. And I believe the Christian life is meant to be lived out loud so that we can learn, encourage, and strengthen one another. So, I’m sharing my discouragement with you. Aren’t you lucky?

Most days I’m pretty happy, but every once in a while when my energy level wears thin or my to-do-list  balloons–BAM!–discouragement hits me square in the nose. Not a fun feeling, but honestly, I should have seen it coming.

I’ve been on overdrive since June, and it appears I’ve finally hit the crash and burn stage. Certainly didn’t help matters that, after pushing myself a bit harder than I should have, I stayed up late reading. So, I woke up behind and tired. Not a good combination. Yep, I asked for a gloomy day.

I’m working on a tween devo project with another writer and just happened to be on the story of Elijah. Funny how God does that. Fighting against my own discouragement, I found the account in 1 Kings 19 very comforting! Although, unlike me, Elijah actually had a right to be discouraged! Well, kind of, minus the fact that his discouragement rode on the heels of some pretty amazing miracles. In chapter seventeen, God fed him through ravens. Then God used him to feed a widow’s family, then raise her son from the dead. In chapter eighteen, through Elijah, God made a mockery of the prophets of Baal and Asherah when flames consumed his water-drenched offering. Shortly thereafter, God sent rain, then gave Elijah special strength, allowing him to run ahead of King Ahab’s chariot.

But when we get to chapter nineteen, Elijah learns Jezebel wants to kill him. He fled and it wasn’t long before his energy drained. Spent and discouraged, he collapsed beneath a tree and begged God to take his life.

Now that’s discouraged.

But notice what God does in verses 5-9 (NIV)

5Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

   All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.

God fed him and gave Elijah time to rest. Then, do you notice what Elijah did? He went to the mountain of God–he spent time with God, to be strengthened and encouraged by His Creator.

So how’d I handle my burgeoning discouragement yesterday? I let God love it away. Instead of allowing discouragement to steal my joy, I 1) took time to rest, 2) took care of my physical needs by eating nourishing food 3) spent time with my Heavenly Father and 4) remembered all  the great things He has done.

And hopefully, the next time a wave of discouragement comes, before I allow the gloom to settle, I’ll step back, evaluate the situation and my state of mind, remembering Elijah and what God did to pull Elijah back on his feet.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite verses–one I hold tight to.

James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Draw near to God today and tuck this promise in your heart, knowing God is there, surrounding you in His unfailing love. He is inviting you in His throne room, to sit at His feet and to rest. To be refreshed and made new. To be loved unconditionally, completely.

What about you? How do you handle those moments of discouragement?

First weed down!

About a week ago, I shared my struggles with discouragement. It’s funny how often I want to keep these internal struggles to myself, to present a false image of spirituality to others, but I am beginning to realize how important authenticity is. In my latest novel (still in the editing stages) the majority of Alice and Trent’s struggles arise from self-isolation. Sure, they’ve got issues. Major issues. (Don’t we all?) But I think their issues would be much more manageable if they would only reach out and let others help them. We weren’t meant to go it alone. As I like to say, we’ve all got skeletons in our closet but they’ll never go away if we keep the doors locked.

I think there’s something freeing about open, honest confession–when we share our deepest struggles with one another and allow others to help us. Not only does it free us to live truly authentic lives, it also adds a level of accountability. When I shared my struggles with discouragement with you, it added an additional level of motivation to overcome them. And now, when I share my first step on this road of truth-claiming, (I call it this because I am tossing out the lies and laying hold to the truth I have in Christ), knowing my previous struggles, you can rejoice with me. So it’s a win-win situation!

The other night I was over-tired. I had company coming from Uruguay and I really wanted to finish the first draft of my current novel before they arrived, so I was pulling some horrendous hours. Mind-numbing, eye-blurring hours. But I did it! By Monday night, I had written almost 89,000 words and had three scenes left and one more day to write them. No problem, right? After two months (I write fast. Either that or I’m slightly ocd, but that’s another post.) I could finally see the finish line. You’d think I’d be rejoicing, but I wasn’t. As I set my computer aside, a wave of discouragement washed over me, threatening to steal my joy of accomplishment. Self-doubt spewed through my mind like popcorn kernels popping off a hot kettle and those tiny little weeds of doubt tried to sink their roots into my heart.

So what did I do? I grabbed my weed-killer! The first thing I did was make the determination that I would not, would not, absolutely would not, allow those nasty thoughts to camp out in my brain. I threw them out like the trash they were. I have a phrase I like to repeat to myself when I am frightened, discouraged or sad. It’s “Just you and me God.” I find myself saying that a lot, but it reminds me that none of this peripheral junk matters. God loves me, and I’m holding on to Him, and whether my novels thrive or flop is inconsequential.

And then I went to bed, in peace. The next morning as I was reading my Bible, God spoke words of encouragement that both reaffirmed my commitment the night before and strengthened my heart to complete the final leg of my first. It came from two verses. The first I just happened upon as I was flipping to my page marker. It was in Exodus 34:6 and it reminded me of who God is.

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

I tucked this in the back pocket of my mind and moved on to the Psalms. I follow along verse by verse and just happened to be on Psalm 139 this morning. We’ve all heard this passage a hundred times and would be quick to agree with its premise. We are created by God, known by God, loved by God and guided by God. But this morning, verse 16 jumped out at me.

Psalm 139: 16  “Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

Putting those two verses together annihilated any remaining weeds and filled my heart with excitement for the day to come because I knew whether this novel soared or fell flat on its face, it was all part of God’s plan for me. All of my days are written in His book, even those I may initially deem to be failures. And because God is a God of love and mercy, even those painful days when I feel like I have egg on my face are steps forward as God works out His loving plan. Which means all I have to do is take that next step, resting in His loving, guiding and protecting hand.

You may be happy to know that I completed my novel and I am now working on a book proposal which I hope to present to an agent by the end of the month, and I’m sure a few weeds will try to sprout as insecurities fight for prominence, but laying hold of the promises in these two verses, I’ve already got my hand on the trigger! Watch out crabgrass, here I come!

Just you and me, God. Just you and me.