What to Do When You’re Discouraged

We all have times when we struggle with despair. Here’s how to handle it.

As I write this, I’m at home sick with the flu. I ache. Everywhere. Adding insult to injury, I just got an email with some bad financial news.

I wish I could blame my fever for my depression right now, but this blueness in my soul isn’t new, or uncommon. It seems I circle back to this place on a fairly regular basis.

For the record, I’m not in a mid-life crisis (I’m too old for that). I’m not hormonal (I take medicine for that). And I’m not suicidal (But I am totally up for Jesus coming back today).

I know as a leader and a pastor I’m supposed to be full of faith. I know I’m supposed to model trust and hope. I know I’m not supposed to whine or complain.

I know.

But as a human, I sometimes struggle.

I can take my blows. I honestly can. It’s typically not the third or fourth or even the tenth kick in the gut that sends me into a pit of despair. But after a while—sometimes after weeks or months of wrestling—I feel like my soul is shattered. Humpty Dumpty would fare better.

I get tired. Frustrated. Disappointed (mostly in myself). And then I start to daydream about winning the lottery and moving to Tahiti because reality is more than I want to handle.

Maybe one or two of you can relate?

If not, please stop reading and please don’t email me any nice Christian platitudes or clichés. This might be a good time just to mourn with those who mourn.

Okay, if you’re still reading, let me tell you what I do when I get in a funk.

1. I wrestle with God, and it’s not pretty.

I’m never disrespectful or vile with God in prayer, but I do get very direct. I might even yell a bit (not at God, but at my situation). I’ve learned that God can handle my angst and pain. I’ve discovered that he understands. In fact, and this is incredible, sometimes God seems closer when I’m hurting.

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I love this quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.”


2. After I’ve vented to God, I vent to a friend or two.

Most of the time, my dear wife is the one I turn to first because she’s such a good listener. Laura never treats me like I’m a hopeless idiot. She always looks me in the eye as she says something like, “I’m so sorry, honey. Thanks for sharing your heart with me. What can I do to help?” We’re coming up on 44 years of marriage, and she’s the reason why!

If you’re not married, or because of the nature of your struggle you can’t share it with your spouse, find a friend. Now. Call them up. Right now. Talk. Cry. And hopefully, they’ll listen and help you up when you’ve lost all your strength.

3. Lastly, I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if this situation doesn’t change?”

Even if the doc says I’m dying (aren’t we all at some point?), the next life is better.

Even if my finances tank and I lose everything, all I own now is temporary anyhow.

Even if everyone abandons me, Jesus promised never to leave my side. Never.

I could go on, but I think you see my point. As a Christ-follower who lives with an eternal perspective, there’s nothing on this side of eternity that I need to fear.

Generally, by the time I get to step three in this anti-funk process, I’m better.

It’s amazing how time with God, time with a good friend and a better perspective change me.

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Of course, I’m still sick. I still have to deal with whatever it is I’m facing at the moment. But my dark pit isn’t as gloomy now that I’m focused elsewhere.

And that, my friend, is the most significant benefit of this simple process: A changed focus.

A Psalm of David
“Take a good look at me, God, and answer me!
Breathe your life into my spirit.
Bring light to my eyes in this pitch-black darkness.”
—Psalm 13:3