Hope for Discouraged Hearts Part 4

Ever feel like the “No” train makes too many stops at your station? In our lifetimes, we will most likely hear the word “No” more than “Yes.”  This is our reality on this side of eternity.  When Jesus lived among us, the number who rejected him eclipsed the ones who received him.

Some people struggle to say no and couch it in different terms. Even thoughssss it’s not said directly, the message is plain.

“We decided to go a different direction with this position.”

“Perhaps you can re-apply for a loan in a few months.”

“You could try this product instead.”

You get the idea.  However, a “No” comes to you, it’s an instant disappointment, especially when it comes from God. Depending on the size of our request, our discouragement can be momentary, or it can be something we wrestle with for years.  When God says to me, “I know, you requested sunshine for your beach day, but I’ve scheduled rain,” I’m a little sad that the day I planned with the grandchildren isn’t going to go as expected.

One day, God said to me, “I’m not healing your mother’s earthly body this time.  She’s run her race and now I’m taking her home.”  This particular “No” cut hard.  My mother knocked on eternity’s door a couple times during the latter years of her life but God said, “No, not now,” to death, each time.  A few days before she died, her therapists and doctors assured her she’d be returning home fairly soon.  She definitely went home, just not to the address any of us had in mind.

Yes, I am comforted by the life my mother lives now, along with all my other family and friends waiting for me in the next life.   I’m teary-eyed whenever I think of the wonderful reunions she experienced with all of her family, gone from earth for many years.  My soul is solid in the assurance that I will see her again and we will be together forever.  Nevertheless, in the here and now, that final “No,” to the last request I prayed for my mom still stings.

Maybe you are wrestling with a very large “No.”   Your spouse did not end an affair and come back to you.  Your business did not survive the last economic downturn.  Your child did not qualify for that scholarship and you are out of ideas for college tuition.  If there is a “No” robbing you of your joy, peace and sleep, I can only encourage you with one word, trust.

Trust in God’s character and Word is our way through a season of discouragement due to a “No.”  Satan feeds on pain and tries to nuzzle in close to us during downturns.  He wants us to think that God is capricious, that He could grant our request but chooses to dangle us over despair instead.  Don’t let the enemy mess with your mind like he did with Eve’s.   “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”  First, he causes Eve to question the facts of what God said.

Secondly, Satan questioned the qualities of God’s character.   When Eve repeated God’s warning about death, if they ate the fruit of one particular tree (not all of them like Satan exaggerated), he simply slithered in a different direction.  “You won’t die!  God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”   Satan implied that God’s nature included random selfishness.    He will attempt the same thing with you.  Satan isn’t particularly clever or original, but he is persistent.

Our minds and emotions are much better able to cope with a rejection when it comes in love from someone we trust.  When I tell my daughter, “I wish I could hang with you today, but I’ve got some jobs that must be done,” she is disappointed.  She does not, however, think crazy thoughts like, “Why didn’t she want to be with me?  Does she not love me as much?  She probably could have rearranged her schedule; she just didn’t want to.”  There is a trust in me and experiential knowledge that I love her unconditionally, always want to be with her and always want the best for her.

Why do we sometimes feel like God isn’t fair and is withholding things from us He could easily give?  When our thoughts run down that road, we are attaching our experiences with people to God’s character.  Maybe you didn’t receive unconditional love from parents or other key figures in your life, so it’s foreign to you.  Perhaps you’ve been grossly mishandled by a number of people and this colors your view of God and your ability to trust Him.

The best way to overcome these kinds of thoughts when you are questioning a “No” from God is to hold fast to Scriptures that describe his nature.  You will grow a calming confidence inside you that your Father will never ever hold back someone or something that is the best for you.  It’s simply not in His character to be unkind or aloof.   I leave you with a starter list of some of my favorite verses on this matter.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. “Psalm 84:11

“The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” Psalm 145:9

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” Matthew 7:11

 

 

 

 

Hope for Discouraged Hearts Part 3

This morning I felt crumpled on the side of my current mountain, before I hauled my cookies out of bed.  The rain slashing against the windows felt like a special effects choice perfectly suited to my inner gloom.  The heroine stumbles and falls again. This time she stays down, arms and legs splayed out, face against the shale, shaking in the cold.  Can she get up?    She’s been lost on this mountain for years.  The core of her will to live is depleted.  Her bloody hands lack strength to push herself back up.  The urge to quit grows stronger than the desire to keep climbing.

She knows all she dreamed of will die here if she doesn’t move.  The kernel of hope that good things wait for her on the other side of this mountain, lifts her head. She pulls her arms in to lift herself once more time.  The pain of putting weight back damaged hands causes her to cry out. She manages a kneeling position in the same moment the dark skies open with hammering rain, as if nature itself wills her to stay down.

Long trials are desperate places where the enemy does everything to flatten you.  For decades I faced a mountain much larger than my current one. Troubled innards created a world of health problems that made me sick in bed, hospitalized or performing life’s activities in pain and illness.  I climbed through everything from kidney stones, gall bladder and colon attacks to intense muscle pain wrongly diagnosed as spinal meningitis.  Chronic sinus infections and bronchitis threw their hats in.  I damaged my liver with excessive ibuprofen and my digestive tract from endless antibiotics.   This started in college and didn’t resolve until my forties, when God led me to wise doctors.  I’m healthier now than my entire twenties and thirties.

During those years, only my family and close friends knew my battles.  Most people knew nothing about my struggles to get out of bed each day and stay out.  I prayed, believed God and His word, asked others to pray over me and still this mountain loomed, malevolently.  No matter how hard I climbed it seemed I couldn’t get over it, through it or around it.  How did I keep myself from giving up?  Why did I continue to hope and believe that God’s healing promises applied to me?  Two words: God’s grace.

I put my resignation on God’s desk many times.  I’d shout at Him during quiet times and say, “I quit! I’m done.  I’m out!  I know you heal others but I’m not seein’ any evidence that those promises are for me.”   Each time, God lovingly slid my pitiful little papers back over to me.  He’d quicken a verse in my spirit or I’d sense His presence in a special way.  Sometimes He’d give me a breakthrough with one specific health issue and resolve it.  Godly friends and my husband spoke apples of gold (Proverbs 25:11) at perfect times. My Good Shepherd tailored sermons, Bible studies, books and prophetic words to capture my thoughts and speak to me directly in dangerous moments when quitting seemed reasonable.   See the thing is, even when I wanted to quit, I didn’t turn my back on God, His Word or His people.

Are you discouraged by a particular problem that’s been confronting you for years?  It’s okay to feel incredibly discouraged at times, as long as you don’t turn your back on the only One who can change your attitude and your circumstances.  In 1 Kings 19 we find the great prophet, Elijah, in a state of deep despair.   The evil queen, Jezebel, set herself against God and His people as soon as she entered Elijah’s turf.  For a man whose heart belonged entirely to God and Israel, I can’t imagine the angst he felt as Jezebel erected pagan idols and worship centers all over the land, with her Israelites husband’s approval. (Imagine your church becoming a brothel.)

If that isn’t dreadful enough, she hires assassins to murder Elijah after his showdown with Baal’s prophets.  Instead of life getting better for the prophet after God showed up miraculously, his feud with Jezebel becomes worse.

Elijah runs away and turns in his papers to God.  He actually says, “I’ve had enough Lord.  Take my life.” (I Kings 19:4)   God ministers to Elijah and restores him to ministry, but He doesn’t remove Jezebel from the picture right away.  God is still speaking to those who’ve been flattened by a long-standing challenge.

  • Do your part in the natural. For Elijah, it meant to eat something. For me, it became a search to find doctors with pertinent insight and knowledge.  Listen to the everyday things God is telling you to do and do them.   They are important.
  • Keep moving forward. God put a knowing in me that answers could be found so I kept looking even when some doctors didn’t work out and I experienced physical setbacks.  Elijah traveled forty days and nights, uncertain of any guaranteed outcomes.  What sometimes feels like random activity to you is not, from God’s perspective.  Walk through doors he opens; take opportunities he brings and listen to His nudges, even though you are still climbing your mountain. Don’t make your mountain into an idol by allowing it to consume all your personal resources.   
  • Go deeper and listen for the quiet voice. God sent an earthquake, powerful winds and fire, but He didn’t speak to Elijah in them.  He whispered.  When I quiet myself and listen to God, I can hear Him.  He gives instructions, fresh insights and new marching orders.  Elijah went from this point to recruiting Elisha.  What are you missing because your mind is too occupied with the discouragement of a mountain that seems stationary?
  • Stay connected with God and His people. Elijah began his partnership with Elisha instead of laying down and dying.  I am deeply grieved for people who give up on God, His word and church attendance because they don’t see their situation changing fast enough.  Don’t let go of the very things God may use to blow up your mountain!
  • Position yourself in faith, not fear. What is controlling your thoughts and actions?  You want it to be God’s promises and His thoughts spoken directly to you not continuous worry over the size of your mountain and its challenges.  God’s hand is moved by faith more than pity. (Matthew 17:20)

 

At some point, your mountain will be cast into the sea if you don’t give up (Mark 11.23).  God designed a breakthrough for you.  Ask Him for the gift of faith so that you can believe it before you see it.

Hope for Discouraged Hearts Part 2

Unmet expectations can destroy a marriage, ruin a business, split a church and crush the human spirit.  Every hour of every day our minds are filled with sets of expectations for everyone with whom we engage and everything to which we put our energies. When our anticipations and our realities are out of sync, chronically, we become discouraged.

Through watching friends, I developed some imaginings of what my first pregnancy might look like.  I pictured the excitement of confirming suspicions on a stick while my husband and I laughed and hugged, the wonderful reveal to friends and family, buying cute maternity clothes, designing a nursery and such.

The reality of my pregnancy erupted one cold, January morning with violent, unrelenting vomiting which nothing stopped except hospitalization, I. V’s and drugs. I cycled in and out of the hospital many times, unable to keep even my own spit down.  At home, in between hospital stays, I sat on the couch or the bathroom floor all day long, dutifully trying to eat jello and crackers and keep them down., too weak to even engage in conversation.  Imagine an unending stomach flu.   My husband felt guilty every minute he worked and helpless every moment he spent with me.  This loveliness lasted until the end of that May.   Those nightmarish months looked nothing like my pregnancy dreams and left both of us deeply discouraged.

When life doesn’t go the way we planned, we are faced with response choices.  We can live in the disappointment of “should have been,” or we can find ways to flourish in the land of “what is and what might be.”  I seriously lacked any “go with the flow” or “make lemons from lemonade” skills in my young years, therefore I wasted a lot of time living in pity parties, wondering why things couldn’t just go the way I wanted.

The beginning of anything new, whether it’s a marriage, a job or something else, can become a minefield of unmet expectations when a situation shapes itself differently and we lack the strength of character to adjust and commit to makes the best of what God’s given us.  My visions of life as a newlywed didn’t match our reality remotely. With Ken in graduate school, he attended classes and studied non-stop, except for meal breaks, from early morning to late at night.  For the first few months in a new town with no friends or family, loneliness overwhelmed me.  I read huge classic novels from cover to cover in between job hunting, a small, part-time waitress job, and the miniscule amount of housework necessary in our 400 square foot apartment.  My college degree gathered dust as I discovered that teaching jobs in my field couldn’t be found.   Every day my dreams seemed to move farther away and I lived in a state of perpetual disappointment.

As disheartening as some of my lifetime unmet expectations were, they are junior varsity compared to others which require much deeper courage and strength.  When your spouse states that they don’t love you anymore and they’ve found someone else who makes them happy, that’s enormous.  If your company downsizes and you are one of the expendables, that is a monstrous blow to a sense of value and a feeling of financial stability.  When an adult child chooses a self-destructive lifestyle with addiction or other devastating behaviors, it’s heartbreaking.   Cancer upends lives and demolishes expectations every hour of every day.

Job knew a lot about loss and unmet expectations.  Who, in their wildest imaginings would think that their entire family and business could be wiped out so completely in such a short time?   With no family or possessions left and covered with painful sores, it’s no wonder he sat in an ash heap.  Discouragement is a normal response to broken dreams, but if we choose to live in the ash heap of disappointment, we aren’t able to see the new possibilities God places before us.

A victim mentality, hopelessness, cynicism, sarcasm, bitterness and a host of other negative emotions will attempt to establish themselves as our new baseline when we are low.  How do we shift gears and recapture a peaceful, joy-filled outlook?  Here’s what works for me, perhaps it can help you too:

  • Remind yourself that the unexpected for you is no surprise for God.   He’s already prepared a new way for you to walk and function before you even knew you needed one.  Whatever you need for your adjusted situation, He will provide.  He is your Jehovah Jireh and you Good Shepherd.

 

  • Forgive anyone who contributed to your unmet expectations.  You will make yourself crazy spinning around over what individuals should or shouldn’t have done that affected you negatively.  It doesn’t mean you forget what’s been done or never lovingly confront them, it means you don’t hold it against them.

 

 

  • Feel what you’re feeling then begin to move on even if it’s just small steps.  I’ll say it again; feelings aren’t right or wrong.  How we act on them, leads to victory or despair.

 

  • Don’t rehearse the details of your setback with numerous people.  Share your disappointment with one or two close friends, not everyone you meet.  Some people allow themselves to be defined by their disappointments and the minute you show an interest in them, they launch into a soliloquy about all the harsh blows life has dealt them.  To be sure, some people walk through some long-term Job style stuff but repeatedly talking about wrongs and disappointment just makes it harder for their soul to recover and become re-appointed in a new direction.

 

 

  • Re-establish your hope and expectations in the Lord. I find I must return repeatedly to a place of abandonment where I say, “Lord, this isn’t what I wanted or dreamed of at all, but I believe you create beauty, purpose and meaning in whatever you allow into my life. Let me line up with your will and your kingdom purposes in my attitudes and actions. I know your hand is good towards me and you are always, always, always, trying to prosper me, not harm me.”  Sometimes I pray this a bunch when it’s a massively squirreled up situation.

 

  • Find Scriptures pertinent to your situation and hang onto them like it’s your job. I know I keep saying this but if you can get this truth, of immersing yourself in the Word and rolling it over and over in your mind, I promise you are going to handle life’s crazy dial much better than many others.

Life will perpetually hand us lemons.  We must decide whether we will simply drink the bitter juice or transform it to some tasty lemonade.

 

 

Hope for Discouraged Hearts

Discouragement finds us all, whether you’re leading a family of two or a company of thousands.  The blues can sneak up gradually through a series of losses.  One day, we realize we’ve lost the oompah in our loompah and we aren’t sure how to get it back.

Other times discouragement sweeps like a tsunami when events crash our world, leaving massive wreckage behind.   Over the next month, I’d like to consider various causes of gloom starting today with loss.

When a person exits our lives, it is one of the most profound disturbances to our equilibrium that we can encounter.  Whatever causes someone to become absent, be it death, divorce or estrangement, the hole they leave gapes blackly as we contemplate our future without them.   Discouragement becomes a dark cloud around us.

Other significant setbacks like the loss of a job, a home, a church, or an important relationship can create the same despairing feelings.  Within one month, I lost my teaching job due to decreased enrollment, and my mother died unexpectedly.  A few months later, my dog died. The triple punch left me feeling dazed and purposeless for a time.

My husband once owned a highly successful, award-winning, small business under a national company.  With very little warning, that corporation decided they no longer wanted to conduct that type of operation within our state and pulled the plug on all businesses like my husband’s.  He felt the loss profoundly and grieved for all the people he put out of work along with the loss of his own livelihood.

Recently, a church I know announced it was disbanding due to low attendance, after 113 years of operation.  I’m aware of several folks who spent the holidays completely alone, not because they are without family, but because they are estranged from them.

I don’t know your losses. My desire is to point you towards the One who does.   Jesus experienced huge emotional injuries.  Think about the tragic, gruesome murder of John the Baptist, his cousin, and the loss of relationship with his siblings and hometown friends whose unbelieve prevented him from doing any miracles there. Consider the unrelenting hatred of the Pharisees, who should have celebrated him instead of plotting his demise.  How did he feel when Judas, who he did life with intimately for three years, betrayed him?  What kind of abandonment did he feel when his disciples all deserted him after his arrest?

Jesus understands loss.  He is moved by the sorrow of a widow who remembers the retirement plans she and her husband made before he became ill or the young parents standing in their nursery, mourning a miscarriage.  He is compassionate for the unemployed and underemployed.  He is moved by the sorrow of parents and children estranged from one another.  He is always near to those crushed in spirit by the cruelties of life’s losses.

His heart is moved by your discouragement, but it is not His desire for you to build a permanent home in gloomy valleys.   We must all walk through dark times of loss yet God promises that even in valleys filled with shadows cast by death and loss, He is with us, and He comforts us. (Psalm 23) He also tells us that his plans for our futures are to prosper us, not harm us. (Jeremiah 29:11)

How do we move through days of grief and loss into brighter times?  Is it possible to experience light-hearted joy and that sense that all is right with the world again when a loss is permanent?    Allow me to share some encouraging suggestions and to submit the idea that from God’s perspective, joy is always available to us.  It’s one of the main reasons Jesus came to earth.  “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  (John 10:10).  Here’s a few ideas to consider in your journey back to joy.

  • Allow yourself to feel the pain from the loss. Loss often throws us into a crisis state of necessary activity. We plan funerals, new living arrangements, seek employment, keep court appointments, lawyer meetings, etc.  The tendency is to shelve emotions.  Do not leave those emotions untended on a shelf permanently.  Discouragement and anger that are not felt and dealt with can turn into some serious depression.   At some point, you must allow yourself to feel the grief and pain of your circumstance.

I once spoke with the mother of a 20-year old, wrong place, wrong time, murder victim.  She couldn’t work, eat or sleep after the tragedy.  When she saw no improvement in her emotional state, she cried out to God.   Together they devised a plan in which she allowed herself to weep and feel her pain one hour each day.  At the end of the hour, no matter how she felt she began to say aloud verses of hope and encouragement that enabled her to get up off the floor and proceed with her day in a somewhat successful fashion.   After a few months, she found she didn’t need an hour and eventually didn’t need a specific time at all.   She returned to her ministry, started another ministry and wrote several books.

Make time for your feelings before they make greater demands on your emotions farther down the road.

  • Spend time with other Christ followers who’ve experienced similar losses and moved on.

Some of the best encouragement I received during my dark days came from others who also abruptly lost jobs and parents.  They understood.  They affirmed my feelings and assured me I wouldn’t always feel that way. They pointed me towards God.

 

  • Ask God to bring specific Scriptures to you for this time and then hold on to them tightly.

I’ll often plaster sticky notes around with key verses.  Making a list of significant Scripture and reading through it every day works well too, particularly if you say it aloud.  Whatever kind of loss you’ve experienced; God says something strategic about it.   It’s so worth it to do the work of finding those gems.  For the best encouragement, the Bible is a one-of-a-kind, supernatural book whose words speak life in the face of death and hope into the chasm of despair.

Don’t allow a time of discouragement to become a lifestyle.  Brighter days are ahead, although you cannot see them now.  God is always in the business of new life and new opportunities.