I started off today thinking I would do a simple task to bless my wife. There’s a cute corner shelf kit she bought that I knew would be easy to fasten to the wall before I got started at work this morning. Boy, was I wrong. The instructions didn’t make sense, I couldn’t find the proper tools in the garage, and I measured wrong. So now holes are drilled in the wrong place, I have to run out to the hardware store, and I have a mess I couldn’t clean up before work. Instead of blessing my wife, I created more work for her and the shelves still aren’t up. I’m totally discouraged because I thought I could handle this simple job. There’s a voice in my head that sounds like a mean football coach I had in high school.
“Get it together, Mondok,” the mean coach in my head says. “Shelves ain’t rocket science!”
“Measure twice, cut once,” I hear the voice taunt.
“You should be able to handle this simple task,” the nagging continues. “If you can’t do this small thing, how will you ever get through a day of “real” work?
Without exception, discouragement on the mission field happens to absolutely everybody. Above you see me whining about a simple task going wrong. You can identify with this because, for most of us, it doesn’t take much to knock us off track and derail an entire day. You’ve been there, too. As I write this, I’m thinking, it’s only shelves! But in the moment, even small things seem big. But, in hindsight, you see that problems can be blown out of proportion. Consider what our first century (the first missionaries in preparation) brothers and sisters went through:
“…but we had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Luke 24:21
These future spokespersons for Jesus didn’t realize that this was the beginning of the world changing forever. We know it now. There’s always something we learn on the other side of discouragement. But those walking through these events in real time had no idea. They thought this short-lived Jesus movement was over. They were totally discouraged.
Breaking down the word DISCOURAGEMENT is a good place to start formulating your plan for over-coming it.
- DIS – when this pre-fix is attached to a root word, it negates the root word. It denotes a sense of failure. Notice the emphasis “sense“.
- COURAGE – this is a word that comes from the French word “COEUR”. It means “HEART“.
- MENT – this suffix turns a verb into a noun. Action morphs into a thing.
Here are six strategies to put in place that will help bring perspective:
- Identify that voice in your head. To quote one mentor of mine: “I’m always on my mind.” You’re always ALWAYS on your mind and totally in your own head. Take a step back and quit thinking about you. Find another vantage point to look at your situation. Give the voice in your head a name. Identifying that a lot of this is in your own head will help you calm down.
- Calm is contagious. You never know who is watching, but, because everyone knows you’re a missionary, there is always someone watching how you live. Be calm. If you’re in a crowd and your plan starts to go sideways, stay calm. People will want to catch this from you. A contagious sense of calm will help you future proof your ministry and relationships on the field.
- Laser focus. Pinpoint the source of your discouragement. Is it you? Is it your circumstances? Is this poor planning or an unavoidable hurdle? Be honest. Lessons are embedded in the source of your discouragement. You’ll become a better planner or more resilient or both. Taking this kind of inventory will prove to be priceless.
- Serve someone. Nothing makes your heart pump stronger than giving yourself away. This is why you went on the mission field in the first place. Remember? Force yourself to re-visit that sense of courage and purpose. Do you remember the notes you wrote in the margin of your Bible and in your journal when God first called you to the mission field? Go back and re-read them. Don’t ignore the strategy of the enemy; when you focus on you and your problems, you take your eyes off the mission of bringing new people into relationship with Jesus. Don’t forget (or ignore!) that this is a real obstacle in your life. Service to others always adds perspective, a sense of value, and spiritual alignment.
- Pray without ceasing. This is the cure for the self-pity that comes from treading water in a pool discouragement. Acknowledge the pain point that discouragement and pray. Don’t neglect prayer. Prayer is the opposite of the temptation to wallow in disappointment. God wants to hear from you.
- Be thankful. Find reasons to be grateful. Get out your journal and make a list. At first, this seems difficult – counter-productive maybe. But once you get going, you’ll find you won’t have to think very hard. If you continue to draw a blank, bring your spouse or a trusted friend into the exercise. This will prove invaluable. True friends always bring perspective.
Despite our prayers the battle with discouragement is never over. While at times we fight it more than others, we never totally eradicate discouragement from our lives. But don’t stop praying! Keep your conversation with God going. Your engagement with Him is what makes this partnership in the Spirit work. Results of the effort will meet His goals for making His kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.