If there is one thing that will tear a person apart more than just about anything else, it is discouragement. Broken bones can be repaired. Torn muscles eventually heal. Even grief, loss, and disappointment mend in time. But a discouraged soul is hard to overcome. Even those we consider some kind of “super human” face discouragement at one point or another. In recent years more and more people of influence; actors, professional athletes, inventors, musical icons have cleared their throats of the embarrassment or shame and given voice to their experiences of discouragement and the toll it took on them; the manner in which it nearly destroyed their lives, careers, and families. Harrison Ford, Prince Harry, Adel, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, Micheal Phelps, Duane “the rock” Johnson,
Fame, fortune, or education. Status, accomplishments, or skin color. Experience, location, or lifestyle. Religion, spiritual formation, or biblical foundation. None of it matters to discouragement. Even the biblical greats found themselves at the mercy of the devil's use of discouragement.
Take Elijah for example. Elijah was perhaps the greatest prophet. Best known perhaps for his showdown with the 400+ prophets of Baal, a popular pagan god during the time of King Ahab.
During the reign of King Ahab, there was a horrible drought and famine in the land and people had turned to praying to and offering sacrifices to the pagan gods and following the pagan prophets in desperate attempts to appease them so that the rain would come, crops would grow, and life would get better. People were turning away from the God of Israel and prophets of Israel were being killed. Elijah comes on the scene and confronts the situation. He tells the people of Israel to make a decision - to stop trying to please a pagan god, listening to the prophets of Baal, while claiming to worship the God of Israel. Stop worshiping idols, make up your mind, and trust the One true God. So he tells them, get two bulls and prepare them for sacrifice. He tells them “You take one and put it on the wood of the altar with no fire to it while I take the other, prepare it and put on another pile of wood and put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of the gods of Baal and I will call on the name of the Lord and the god who brings fire, is God. The challenge commenced and the prophets of Baal called upon their god from morning til noon and nothing happened; no fire. Elijah comes and basically eggs them on saying, come on call louder, and they continued until late into the day. No fire.
At a time when Elijah should have been feeling incredible, undefeatable, secure in his calling, and like he was being used as a powerful voice for God, instead, he felt vulnerable, insecure, and scared. “After the heights of triumph come the depths of despair. And it is often when in this second state of heart and mind that we are more open to new learning.” What begins as running for his life, becomes a pilgrimage of compassion. Elijah learns the life giving and life saving message of compassion for self through God.
When we listen to and observe the life of Elijah, we hear and recognize common emotions, questions, and struggles we have all had in times of stress, struggle, and maybe even during times of perceived victory. It often seems as though on the tail of success, discouragement can creep in. In those moments it is easy to want to run and hide, or run away to the last place we felt safe, strong, or grounded. It is when we want to pull the covers back over our heads and say, “nope not today.” So often and especially in our western culture, self compassion is seen as being weak, or too touchy feely, or some self-centered act of self help. When in reality self-compassion is the restorative work of God’s love for God’s people.
We have all been through a lot this past year and a half. Many have been through a lot without the pandemic. Now, it seems, we have the relief and joy of seeing things on the other side a little bit, which feels like victory. Let’s not allow discouragement to take that from us. Be kind church - to others, yes and to yourselves. Do not let discouragement steal potential of new beginnings and possibilities, or stifle creativity and hope. Be kind. Don’t make a big splash about it. Don’t overthink it. Be kind to others AND to yourself. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t wallow in it. Just be kind to yourself too. Laugh a little more. Play a little. Rest. Do what feeds your soul and be prepared for the journey we have ahead.
In the name of Jesus, may it be so. Amen.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine