“When they were discouraged, I smiled at them. My look of approval was precious to them.” Job 29:24 NLT
Discouragement is a not just a long fancy word for a spelling bee-for many people it can be a state of mind and even a state of living. Some people live a “murphy’s law” kind of life-you know-they’re the ones that if something awful is going to happen, it’ll most likely happen to them. Some even refer to themselves as a jinx or being cursed. They may even make jokes about their “bad luck” but deep down inside they’re living in a pit of discouragement.
Discouragement is such an easy pit to fall into too. That person who busted their tail for a promotion only to see themselves get passed over for Slacker Steve can entertain discouragement without even knowing it. That football team who trained hard only to lose because of bad refereeing (yes I said it-and yes it does happen) can throw a discouragement party that may trickle into the following game or effect their whole season if they let it. That girl who dreams of being married but rarely gets asked out on a date-she can easily be the next contestant in the pageant of discouragement.
Discouragement usually starts with a disappointing event or from expectations not being met. How we handle it all happens in our minds. If we dwell on the disappointment or loss discouragement grows. Dwelling too long on that feeling can build a whole addition to our hearts and minds just for discouragement to live. The more we dwell, the more discouraged we feel, the deeper we sink into the pit.
We don’t have to entertainment discouragement though. We should acknowledge the disappointment or loss most definitely. But how we take it from there becomes a battlefield in our minds. For a lot of people negative thoughts come naturally and thinking positively is a deliberate act they have to willfully choose to combat the negativity. I know because I am one of those stinkin’ thinkers.
When I was growing up it seemed as though every time I hoped for something it wouldn’t happen. I convinced myself to have no expectations or to expect the worst so there’d be no disappointment. This type of coping skill carried on well into my adult years and effected so much of who I was including my relationships and friendships. In church I’d sing the song, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one…” but inside I was thinking, “Count my blessings? Yeah right. What’s there to feel blessed about?” Did I mention discouragement brings along a roommate named bitterness? Due to entertaining discouragement for so long, I lived a very bitter life for many years.
Thankfully, God kept peeling away my layers by sending me people who could see past my bitterness and deep within my heart. Through these people God showed me how blessed I truly am. He also showed me how I can combat discouragement and break free from bitterness. One way-I bless others every chance I get. With every store clerk, restaurant server and stranger I meet, I am diligent in wishing them a blessed day before parting. Most customer service people will tell you to “have a nice day” in a canned computerized voice because it’s routine to them. It’s like someone saying thank you and you saying “you’re welcome” without knowing why you’re being thanked. It’s just an automatic thing. But when I respond with, “Have a blessed day”, they’re whole demeanor changes-I watch slumped over tired minimum wage workers stand a little taller, their faces brighten and their smiles become sincere. They’re tone of voice softens and they tend to say, “thank you-you too” genuinely. Suddenly, it’s as if those four simple words made them realize they matter and are worthy of being blessed. When I first started this I was slightly embarrassed but now I can’t wait to check out, just so I can be a blessing to their day.
The second way God is freeing me from discouragement and bitterness is in reminding me there’s always a reason to smile. No matter what is happening in your life or mine-there’s always a reason to smile. Even in the deepest of grief from losing your greatest love, feeling panicked because the bills keep getting bigger but your income keeps getting smaller, or feeling helpless because your infant child is in ICU struggling to breathe and the doctors can’t figure out why-God can show us a reason to smile. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT) Paul wrote this when he was in prison-imprisoned for preaching the Word of God and nothing more.
To avoid discouragement-I am making a list of a thousand reasons to smile. If I ever make it to 1,000 then I’ll change the title to a Million Reasons to Smile and keep going. Writing this list retrains my mind to squash negativity and remain positive. It also reminds me that God is faithful and His plans for me remain good no matter what is happening around me. Today’s list would be this:
- My daughter telling me about her English assignment where she had to choose a fictional character she would want to be her parent. She chose Lorelei Gilmore (from the Gilmore Girls-a show we watch together) because she said the character is exactly like me, her actual mom.
- Watching my son tackle an opponent who was bigger than him and recover a fumble in his opening football game.
- Watching my daughter perform for the third time during the varsity half-time show with the high school marching band.
- Having my baby brother and his wife home to attend both of my children’s events this week.
- Getting an unexpected bonus at work.
- Getting a phone call from a stranger thanking me for participating in a specific ministry and encouraging me to keep ministering to others.
- Having a co-worker thank me for encouraging her.
- Being able to bless another co-worker with Subway after sitting through a difficult meeting.
- Taking a nap and watching movies while doing laundry on a rainy Saturday.
- Blessing others through this blog…
Whether you’re having a “murphy’s law” kind of day or week, or have experienced so much disappointment your drowning in a pit of discouragement I want to encourage you to find a reason to smile today. Then start your own “A Thousand Reasons to Smile” list and join me in counting those many blessings, naming them one by one. As the rest of the song goes-it will surprise you what the Lord has done.