What Do You Do When You’re Discouraged?

It’s easy to be discouraged isn’t it?

Over a troubled relationship. Because you find your job less than satisfying.  In light of a difficult health situation. When your kids don’t seem to listen, or when they experience pain of their own. Because something important in the world—politics, the economy, cultural values, etc.—falls short of your expectations or hopes. Or it could be for one of a thousand other reasons. Even here in the United State, where we have so many advantages and blessings, discouragement is often a daily companion.

So what should we do when we get discouraged? What’s a faithful response to all the challenges and disappointments that are all around us? As usual, a single blog post won’t do the subject justice, but here are at least a few things to keep in mind:

Understand that discouragement is a helpful reminder.

Discouragement is a clue that something really is wrong, that things are not as they should be. More specifically, it’s a reminder that you live as a broken person in a broken world, meaning that what you’re ultimately looking for isn’t available in the normal stuff of life. If you thought you could somehow bring about the kind of life we all seem to want—prosperous, healthy, rewarding, free of trouble—your discouragement is a nagging clue that you’re on a foolish quest. It forces us to ask whether a change in perspective—and therefore a change of where we place our hopes—is in order.

It’s good to lament.

In a significant sense, to lament the causes of our discouragement—including and maybe especially our own sin—is the appropriate thing to do.. There are more than enough examples in the Psalms alone to support this idea. And we’re told to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15), something we see modeled by Jesus himself (see John 11). But why is lamenting in light of our discouragement a good thing? For one, it’s an exercise in acknowledging the previous point—that things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and nothing we can do will simply make them okay. Secondly, when our lament has a biblical shape, it not only expresses sorrow, it also cries out for help. It humbly looks for the grace of God, which is what we all so desperately need…not just to navigate our present difficulties, but for our selves and our world ultimately to be made right. And this brings me to one further point that I find supremely hopeful.

Remember that God works through the very things that cause your deep discouragement.

This being Easter week, let me pose a question. If you were one of Jesus’ original followers, what would you have been thinking the day after he’d been crucified and buried? You had left whatever is was that you did to follow him. And for good reason. You had seen him display wisdom and insight beyond anyone else you’d ever met. You had seen him do incredible, miraculous things: feed thousands, heal the sick and blind, even raise the dead! But hot on the heels of his popularity reaching its peak, just as your hopes in him were the highest, he was betrayed by one of your own, judged by manipulative and unprincipled men, tortured brutally, and subjected to one of the most agonizing deaths ever devised while being mocked by those looking on. It was humanity at its worst. If ever there was an experience that would justify bitterness and cynicism, this was it. Can you imagine how discouraged and hopeless all of it would have made you feel?

And yet that same situation, in all its darkness and brutality, was the very means through which God accomplished his greatest work of redemption. It is Jesus’ sacrificial death—the worst crime humanity has ever committed—that ultimately allows us to be free from our sin and its penalty. We now know these events in which it looked as if God’s presence and grace were absent were in fact a towering display of his gracious love.

So it’s worth asking: if God can use those horrible events for such a supremely redemptive purpose, what might he be doing through the circumstances that cause your own discouragement?

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