Discouragement

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I shouldn’t write tonight but I have to write this tonight. I have to write this now.

If I were to be canonized when I die, which I consider a fair long shot at this moment, I’d like to become the patron saint of people battling discouragement.

I’m discouraged as hell tonight. It was a hard day, one of the most discouraging I’ve had in many moons.

I shouldn’t write tonight because it’s already late and I’ve already doomed myself to being short on sleep and dragging through tomorrow.

I have to write this now because I’ve been promising myself that I would write a post on discouragement from inside, so to speak. Also, writing (or any artistic activity) is an act of defiance in the face of discouragement. Discouragement says, “Why bother, it’s not going to make any difference.” Discouragement’s cousin, cynicism, dresses up as an intellectual to pretend that this choice to acquiesce and do nothing in the face of sorrow and injustice and cruelty and indifference is somehow wisdom.

Discouragement isn’t dressing up, though. It isn’t trying to fool anyone. Discouragement lacks the energy and the will to bother.

Discouragement reminds us that for every inspirational story of the guy who just kept trying and finally triumphed, of the woman who refused to quit and eventually overcame impossible odds, a bunch of people kept trying and still failed.

Discouragement calls hope “wishful thinking.” It says, “Sure, go ahead and pray. If that makes you feel better, why not? You know you’re kidding yourself though, right?”

I know you might be reading this and thinking, “Man, what a downer! I thought he was a man of faith.”

That’s my point. I am a man of faith, by which I mean I continue to believe and try to live by my believe that Jesus loves me–loves us–and won’t reject or abandon us. This is what I deal with as a man of faith and this is how we have to survive it.

If you’re reading this and think, “Oh, I know exactly how that feels,” you know there are days when nothing helps. I’m not talking about depression, exactly. That’s again a different relative, with the same family tree but different parents. By “discouragement” I mean that realization that you’ve tried and you’ve beaten your head against the wall and what you have besides a minor concussion is…

No, that’s it.

That’s how discouragement feels. And if you have some chirpy, cliched solution to this, you haven’t battled discouragement the way I’m describing. So if that’s you, and those well-meaning answers you read in (I’m now practicing self-control by not naming the author I’m thinking of) fix it for you, please go ahead and pray for me and don’t feel like you need to finish reading this.

Still here? Shit. I’m sorry. It’s no fun, is it?

There are so many ways to describe life, to frame what we’re going through here on this journey. I could aptly describe my existence here as a lifelong battle between discouragement and refusing to give in. Obviously, there are so many other aspects to my life, so much joy and beauty and all the people I have loved and encouraged and the times I’ve made people laugh and all that wonderful ultimate I’ve played. None of that goes away, none is rendered meaningless. It’s still true that I love Kim. God is still faithful.

But I’m also trying to tell you that God’s faithfulness and my love for Kim don’t erase this discouragement. Neither do wine and chocolate and a few really nice catches I made tonight (indoor ultimate season, thank God we were playing tonight) make it go away and they only numb it so much. One motivation for addiction is to numb it out all the way. I can’t recommend that. Addiction has a way of taking over and becoming a bigger problem than the one you were trying to make go away. But I get why people go down that road. The scary part is how tempting it is to walk on top of the fence and convince yourself you won’t fall over into addiction, you’ll just, you know, take the edge off a little. But I truly understand why anyone would not want to feel this.

So here’s why I’m writing: feeling this way is one of the most miserable things I know. It’s miserable enough to make one want to do anything to make it stop. If you’re feeling this way and still going, you’re a [very strong expletive for emphasis) warrior, and I know that. I don’t care if no one else knows it. I do. I know how some days breathing feels too demanding and things that need to happen just don’t because just being is exhausting all your resources. I know that a bunch of people don’t get that and they look down on you and you couldn’t ever explain it to them in a way that makes sense to them and part of you resents them for that and part of you feels bad and still wants to try.

You are a freaking hero.

You are a hero for not giving up. I don’t know if you’ll ever triumph, in the classic “then he got rich” or “she got famous” story. Without that ending, you are a hero to me.

I promised myself I would write when I felt like this so that I could say to you: I know. I really do know. I’m with you. God is with you, and I don’t say that to pretend it makes everything magically all better, but because it’s true and I’m convinced it makes all the difference, the difference between life and death.

Today I spent a long time holding my daughter’s hand in the dentist office while she went through a painful (but necessary) procedure. Today I helped my wife arrange and decorate her kinder classroom for her “Polar Express Pancake Party” tomorrow. Tonight I played disc and made jokes and ran hard. I did all that stuff while feeling like I was dying inside, not pretending I wasn’t but refusing to succumb to those feelings, those voices, the temptation to give up.

Yes, I’m discouraged. No, I’m not quitting.

When I die, I hope I join the communion of saints, the “great host of witnesses,” and I hope Jesus gives me special dispensation to come and whisper in people’s ear, “you freaking rock; God heard your prayer about how discouraged you are and sent me to remind you that, even though no one else gets how hard you’re fighting right now, Jesus gets it and is fighting with you, holding onto you as you fight it, right now.”

It’s 3:15 and I’m not the patron saint of anything. Tomorrow I’ll feel some embarrassment for having been this blunt and open. That’s okay. If you can hear me, saying this is worth it.

You are a warrior.

11 thoughts on “Discouragement

  1. Jim Allyn

    I don’t really distinguish between discouragement and depression, or at least not to the degree that you do. For me, they’re pretty much all part of the same thing. They are different, but not separate, like Siamese twins (conjoined twins, if you prefer the modern term). I have many times been called a cynic, and regarding that:

    “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” – George Bernard Shaw

    Another great post, Mike, and another post I wish you didn’t have to make. But you did, and for that, thanks.

  2. John Carter

    Perseverance doesn’t mean everything is OK. I was profoundly discouraged last night about the depths of depravity our fellows are capable of and are committing. Perseverance today means for me that I’m going to be faithful to my committments and even find some joy in the sunshine. I’m not going to rain that sadness on the Christmas joy of children but I will work unbeknownst to them for their protection. Perseverance is the heart of Christian vocation. Taking one step at a time.

    • Thank you, John, that is very well expressed. Perseverance certainly does NOT mean everything is okay. Perseverance means I refuse to give up opposing the things that are horrible. Perseverance, as you’re describing it, is the opposite of surrendering to the discouragement and sense of futility that threatens to crush me under its weight.
      I chose not to wade into what causes my discouragement because I didn’t want to lose people and I wanted to convey this as support to those of us who feel discouraged and not as a cry for help (which is how some still took it). I really like how you capture it. Perseverance is certainly the heart of Christian vocation, and recognizing that we battle discouragement–from the depravity of our fellows, to our efforts which appear fruitless, to our own failures–names what we must overcome to continue living faithfully.
      Thanks for persevering, John. Thanks for finding joy and fighting for those who are valued least.

  3. Rich Keel

    I’m so sorry for your discouragement. You’ve been dealt some shitty hands in your day and quite likely besides my wife the person I look up to the most. Love you man, Rich

  4. Veronica

    You are a reckless writer and it makes all the difference for people like me. That someone would stand up and shout the truth about how devastating it can be just to live in your own brain! It’s everything!!! You have the guts to risk the humiliation, to have people pity you…it’s almost superhuman how brave you are. How ironic—your super power is vulnerability. Just like Christ.

    • Dang! When you put it that way, V, it feels pretty good! Of course, that’s not how it feels in the moment, but I so appreciate hearing this from you. We’re in it together. I’m still convinced that we disarm it when we name it and shout out what’s true in spite of it. Maybe I got that from A Wrinkle in Time?

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