Written By Grace Chan, Malaysia, originally in Traditional Chinese
I once heard a story of an old devil who was planning to retire. He put up for auction all the weapons which he had accumulated over the years. They ranged from envy to laziness to gossip.
One of these weapons was worn from frequent use; it was the most expensive of the lot. When a junior devil asked about the weapon, the old devil proudly introduced it: discouragement. “Many people have been able to resist attacks from my other weapons, but as soon as I deployed ‘discouragement’, they would fall into the trap, and it would be easy to control them,” he explained.
The old devil was right. At the lowest point in my life, I was trapped in feelings of discouragement. I lost all hope and joy; I was so disappointed with myself and my work and felt like a good-for-nothing. Whenever someone assigned me a new task, I was so afraid to mess things up. I struggled to interact with others, constantly overthinking everything I said and did, and feeling stifled by the internal conflict I was facing. I thought I would lose my job and my relationships.
When night fell, I would either cry myself to sleep or mindlessly browse my social media feeds on my phone until I fell asleep. Because the former was too painful, I usually chose the latter as temporary reprieve. But on the following day, I would beat myself up for wasting time.
Also, I didn’t want to face a new day and struggled to get up every morning—often lying in bed until the last minute before rushing out to work. I couldn’t change myself no matter what I did. How could I serve God in this state? I often reasoned. For a long time, I felt aimless and lethargic about life.
Looking back, I believe that there were two root causes of my discouragement:
I often compared myself with other people and wondered why they could overcome difficult and painful seasons and even grow spiritually. I, on the other hand, seemed to be stuck in my problems. That made me feel useless and worthless.
It was only when my pastor shared with me that everybody was made unique, and there was no basis for comparison, that my perspective changed. Many times, we don’t see the full picture: each one of us has our own weaknesses, and we all need God’s help. As the apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:3-8, we have different gifts and can play different roles in God’s work. That’s when I realized I had a tendency to focus on the strengths of others but my own weaknesses.
I expect a lot of myself and tend to be fixated on the nitty-gritty. However, I soon realized that the unreasonably high standards I had set for myself had come about because of my pride–not because God required them.
As I think back on some of the things that have happened, I’ve realized that I get easily frustrated and struggle to accept it whenever my pride takes a hit, such as when I’m treated unjustly or misunderstood, or when I don’t perform up to scratch or make mistakes.
Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” God used this verse to teach me that through the disappointments I faced, He was molding me and teaching me to put down my pride and need for perfection.
He also helped me change in these three areas:
1. Acknowledge my weakness
During that period of discouragement, I became reticent and withdrawn, and was reluctant to tell others about how I was feeling. I pretended everything was okay and kept myself busy by helping others.
But suppressing my feelings didn’t help, as my negative emotions showed up in the words I said. It took church elders and friends to help me open up about my struggles and needs, and to acknowledge that I was on the verge of a breakdown. They also interceded on my behalf. Through them, I began to see the truth of Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
2. Focus on others instead of myself
Interestingly, I also learned that the way to not get overwhelmed by our own circumstances is to instead, focus on the needs of others, just like what Isaiah 58:10 says, “and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
When I was discouraged and wanted to distance myself from everyone and hide, God surrounded me with fellow believers, some of whom were sisters that I had ministered to in the past. Through them, God gave me the opportunity to look past my own problems and show them love and concern, just as I had in the past. The reason why I could love them was because God, the source of love, enabled me to.
3. Surrender everything in prayer
In a book I’ve read called, Kisses From Katie, author Katie Davis shares her experiences about moving from her home in USA to Uganda, where she became the mother to 13 adopted children. In the beginning, she felt very helpless and frustrated when she saw all the needs around her. But when she turned to God and cried out to Him, God gave her the resources to help the children.
Her story reminded me that we cannot rely on ourselves because many things are beyond our control. At the same time, however, we should not allow ourselves to despair. Instead, we should surrender our pains and problems to God through prayer.
When we hand the authority and control of our situation back to the all-powerful God, He will grant us faith to wait patiently for His answers in our lives.
If you were to ask me today if I am completely free from negative emotions and thoughts, my answer is found in this verse: “LORD, You alone are my portion and my cup; You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5).
I have come to understand that I am in God’s hand and everything is from Him. Whenever I am afraid of losing something or lack the courage to face challenges, I know that God will strengthen me. And I firmly believe that God will not give me more than I can bear, and He would always provide a way out (1 Cor 10:13).
So let me return to the story I started with. The junior devil went on to ask the old devil what kind of person was not afraid of discouragement. The old devil replied, “Those with a grateful heart.” Gratefulness helps us see what we have and not focus on what we don’t have. It causes us to remember God’s leading and work in our lives, and gives us confidence that He will continue to guide us in our path ahead.
So, no matter the discouragement we have faced and will face, let’s pray that God will enable us to praise Him in thanksgiving. It is my prayer that we all will learn to be grateful people.