I can point to where I was standing.
The old, worn gold carpet is long gone, I’m sure. The house on Watson Road has likely been redecorated many times since we lived there.
But there’s no mistaking that spot where I made one of the most life-altering decisions of my life. And get this: I never told a soul about it. In fact, I never uttered a word. But in a silent transaction of the mind, will, and emotions, with three simple words I began a process of sowing to the wind… and reaping a whirlwind.
The Back Story
It was about this time of year. I was living in one of my dream cities, and had the privilege of being the pastor of what I considered to be my dream church. “This,” I said to myself often, “is why God called me into the ministry.” It wasn’t a perfect place (have you ever seen a perfect church?). But I was genuinely happy there, and felt blessed to be a part of what God was doing in people’s lives.
But behind the scenes, other forces were driving me to distraction. We lived in constant financial pressure – complicated by the fact that my wife had been suffering severe joint pain for a couple of months and had been forced to quit her job. We had no idea what was causing it (we know today it was lupus). So round after round of fruitless medical tests, coupled with the loss of her income, made the financial stress nearly mind-numbing.
And that’s what was on my mind that afternoon, when I reached that spot on the stairs. Driven to distraction, trying to figure out the bills, I looked up and saw my wife standing in the kitchen near the top of the stairs.
And she was smiling. Happy. So glad she wasn’t working, and was feeling better.
And then came the choice.
It wasn’t her fault she had gotten sick.
It wasn’t her fault she was feeling better from less stress and more rest.
It wasn’t her fault that I didn’t earn enough money to pay for the debts and obligations we had accumulated. Nor was it my employer’s fault. It was mine. But the me that always had another solution, or could always buy a little more time, had just run out of ideas.
Discouragement in Motion
I guess I should clarify. I didn’t quit writing checks. I didn’t quit drawing a salary. I didn’t quit going through the motions of trying to manage money.
But I did give up my sense of expectancy.
I did give up my willingness to plan ahead.
I did give up my vision for the future in that one area of my life. We were in survival mode. And anyway, few things hurt more than the death of a dream.
Meanwhile, every day I would return to my happy place and put on the happy face. If people asked me how I was doing, the answer was always the same – a ministerial smile and cheerful reply: “Good!”
But in places not even I could see, a cancer of sorts was growing. Creeping slowly, crawling imperceptibly at first, the discouragement I chose to exhibit over finances began to spread to other areas.
First the money. Then the marriage. Then the ministry. (There were probably other things as well, but none of them start with “m.”)
Here’s what I didn’t know about discouragement then, that I do now: Discouragement never sits still.
Yours won’t, either.
Any more, when somebody tells me they’re discouraged, I no longer care what the presenting issues are. They just told me they have cancer, and that is what needs the most help.
Why I Allowed the Discouragement to Spread
There is a lot more to that saga; discouragement is just the tip of the iceberg. But it was the starting point for a world of unnecessary hurt. And all because I didn’t address it for what it was.
The discouragement, which ultimately led to depression, grew because:
1. I treated it like a temporary mood rather than an emotional poison.
I kept thinking I would get better, and for short bursts, I would. But trudging through life with discouragement is like sleeping with a cobra. You may survive for a night or two, but sooner or later, you’re going to get bit.
2. I didn’t share my feelings with my wife.
In trying to protect her feelings, I hid mine. There is no other way to describe this but stupid, stupid, stupid.
3. I didn’t get wise counsel from godly sources.
Once upon a time in church world, there were two things you never talked about – money and sex. Now there’s just one – money. And anyway, I was the pastor! I was supposed to have all the answers – not all the problems. Which led to…
I was too proud to ask for help. Too proud to admit I had a problem. Too proud to admit that I could solve the problem(s) I did have. You name the stripe, I had it – spiritual pride, intellectual pride, masculine pride, and more.
True to the nature of discouragement (definition – “to give up your willingness to take bold action”) I froze. For the longest time, I did nothing, or only what I had to.
6. Failure to call on the Lord.
This was the saddest of all. For whatever reason, this time I stopped asking and expecting. I assumed the role of provider, and that’s still God’s job.
Giving Yourself New Courage
If I could go back today and talk to the shell of a man I once was, I would remind him of David’s crisis of leadership, when his own mighty men wanted to stone him. They were blaming him for their troubles, and David was distressed. But 1 Samuel 30:6 says that “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” Literally, he “strengthened himself” or “found his strength.”
I would remind him that it’s through inquiring of the Lord, trusting in the Lord, yielding to the Lord, standing firm in the Lord, and recognizing that all discouragement is of the devil that his courage is renewed.
I would point him to people who loved him and cared about his success and peace – starting with his own wife and family.
I would gently point him to the next right thing to do – not a long list of every right thing to do.
I would stubbornly remind him that his worth was not measured by his circumstances, but by the one event that counts – the act of God’s Son loving him to the point of dying for his guilt.
I would point him to a hope that exceeds his ability to figure, to conjure, to scheme, or to fix what’s broken.
I would let him know how deeply loved he was.
I would do that for you, too, if I knew you were discouraged.
In fact, I think I just did.